Claimed off waivers last season, Paul Byron is thriving in Montreal

Carey Price stopped 41 shots, Paul Byron scored with 1:02 left and the Montreal Canadiens beat the Boston Bruins 3-2 on Tuesday night.

MONTREAL _ Paul Byron is too busy scoring goals for the Montreal Canadiens to wonder what may have been had the Calgary Flames never put him on waivers.

The speedy five-foot-eight, 160-pound winger, who was claimed from Calgary a day ahead of the 2015-16 season, has been the Canadiens’ hottest scorer of late with four goals in his last five games.

“It’s just confidence and a great summer,” Byron said Thursday. “I had a strong summer here working out and skating and it’s translated into my game on the ice.

“And having come here last season, there’s no adjustment to a new system or getting comfortable with new guys. So it was a good fit for me.”

Byron had a career high 11 goals in his first campaign in Montreal and already has six goals and five assists in 17 games this season, helping the Canadiens to a 13-2-2 record.

It has helped that, after starting the season on the third line, he has been on the top line with centre Alex Galchenyuk, the team scoring leader with 18 points, in the last four games.

The third member of the unit was Alexander Radulov, but the gifted Russian missed a 4-3 overtime loss to Florida on Tuesday night with an illness and was not expected to play Friday night in Carolina, although he may be ready for a home game Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

What coach Michel Therrien likes best about Byron is his versatility. The Ottawa native does not look out of place on a scoring line or a checking unit, and he also kills penalties.

“He’s just playing his game and he’s getting rewarded for his hard work,” said Therrien. “It’s easy to say he’s got speed but it’s more than that.

“He competes. He fights for his space in front of the net and that’s how he gets his goals.”

Bob Hartley, Calgary’s coach at the time, felt much the same, but circumstances intervened. The Flames felt they had depth at forward and were concerned about the run of injuries Byron sustained in 2014-15, including wrist and sports hernia surgeries.

Montreal had just lost forward Zack Kassian after an off-ice incident and grabbed Byron and his attractive contract, which called for a $900,000 cap hit for one season. He inked a new three-year deal with a $1.166 million annual hit in February.

Byron, whose NHL career started in Buffalo in 2011, played 130 games for Calgary over four seasons. He has no hard feelings for the Flames.

“You could think like that, but I just think about how positive it’s been here in Montreal,” he said. “Who knows what could have happened in Calgary?

“As soon as I got here my focus was on doing well here. For me and my family the adjustment and settling in has been incredible. The comfort level we have here we might not have had out west. Maybe they regret the decision and maybe they don’t, but to me it was one of the best things that ever happened.”

The bilingual Byron and his French-Canadian wife like being close to family and friends. And the Bell Centre crowd has started taking a shine to him. Two of his goals this season were on breakaways after causing turnovers at his own blue line and then outracing opponents to the net. Fans have even come to anticipate breakaways when he kills penalties.

“I try not to do that,” he said. “My number one goal is to get the puck out of our zone and prevent goals.

“When I see a loose puck, my reaction is to jump on it if I have the energy and I think I can get it. But as soon as you start chasing breakaways, start cheating, for whatever reason, you don’t get the breakaways and you get scored on.”

Speed is only one part of his survival skills. Another is toughness. He’s often the smallest player on the ice, but he doesn’t avoid going to the net. He puts part of that down to having played lacrosse as a youngster.

“I played lacrosse, so I may be small but I think I hit pretty good,” he said. “It helps your hands and you’re not as afraid of contract. You get used to the hacking and slashing, so it toughens you up pretty good.”

Notes: The Canadiens called up forward Charles Hudon from St. John’s of the American Hockey League. Hudon has nine goals and five assists in 15 games this season.

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