From the beginning, the deck was stacked against Montreal Canadiens winger Paul Byron. At 5’7” and 164 lbs, he was always thought of as too small to succeed at the next level. However, the diminutive but determined forward would go on to continually outplay his expectations and carved out a successful career in the National Hockey League with the Montreal Canadiens.
Byron was drafted in the sixth round by Buffalo in 2007. After only two years and eight NHL games in the Sabres organization he was traded to the Calgary Flames in 2011.
He would split the next three seasons between Calgary and their AHL affiliate in Abbotsford before earning a full-time roster spot with the Flames in 2014-15 when he dressed for 57 games. Prior to the start of the next season in October 2015, Byron was claimed off waivers by the Canadiens and his life changed forever. It was a move that general manager Marc Bergevin recalled years later as the best he ever made.
The wiry forward made an immediate impact and he quickly became a favorite of coach Michel Therrien. He would score 11 goals in 62 games that first year with the Canadiens and the days of Byron worrying if he would be a healthy scratch or be sent back down to the minors were gone for good.
He really found his niche and peaked with back to back 20 goal seasons in each of the next two campaigns. He regularly brought Habs fans to their feet as he burned defenders with his blistering speed. The Ottawa native became a highly effective penalty killer constantly keeping opponents on their toes and in fear of a shorthanded breakaway. He had a gear that others simply didn’t have and if he got a step on you, it was over.
Unfortunately, injuries would be the one thing that would slow Byron down as a variety of ailments would cause him to miss significant time over his final four years with the club.
When he was healthy though he was still electric and some of his most memorable moments in the bleu-blanc-rouge came in the team’s 2021 run to the Stanley Cup Final. Who can forget his iconic game winning goal from his knees in Game 1 of the first round against Toronto?
Byron had a hand in many of the exhilarating plays during those playoffs. It was Byron who used his speed to create a turnover and then found Jesperi Kotkaniemi for the overtime winner in Game 6 against the Leafs. It was Byron again, who blew by everybody to set up Josh Anderson’s OT goal in Game 3 of the conference final against Vegas. Not to mention his highlight reel breakaway goals in Games 2 and 4 of the Golden Knights series.
Byron officially announced his retirement from hockey this week at the age of 34. He played in 383 regular season games and made 38 playoff appearances over seven seasons with the Canadiens and left us with some lasting memories. He will also go down as arguably the best waiver pickup in franchise history.
Byron moved like the Flash, but he was no flash in the pan and he leaves behind a trove of heart-stopping memories. A true model of perseverance, Byron overcame the odds and is an inspiration to anyone who has ever been doubted.
It is widely believed that Byron will remain with the organization, likely in player development. If so, I can’t think of a better role model for the young players in this organization to emulate.
Want your voice heard? Join the A Winning Habit team!