MONTREAL, QC. — It should be evident that the Canadiens’ are lacking a pair of quality, top-six forwards as they approach the post season. Already scoring-deprived, the Habs are desperate for someone to supplement their stars’ consistently.
With this in mind, they’ll have to make a decision on the composition of the players surrounding their three primary point producers. Both Paul Byron and Artturi Lehkonen have spent time alongside Alex Galchenyuk on the team’s second line this season, with neither giving performances warranting anything other than consideration.
In the team’s game in Edmonton, Claude Julien aligned those three aforementioned offensive producers on a line. Max Pacioretty, Galchenyuk and Alex Radulov were far and away the best line, and individual players, that we have seen in some games.
With those three on a line, there’s no offensive fire-power worthy of the opposition’s best defenders. This leads to reason that should the top trio hit a rough patch, they would once again be split apart into who knows which new composition. It is with this presumption put forth that I compare the benefits of playing either Byron or Lehkonen on the second line.
Byron has been the most impressive waiver claim in the NHL over the course of his tenure as a Montreal Canadien. The diminutive forward is fourth among forwards in points, and trails only Max Pacioretty for the team lead in goals with 19.
Having played alongside Galchenyuk for a lesser period of time than Lehkonen, if only by a couple of games, the former Calgary Flame is, on paper, a perfect fit for Galchenyuk. Byron’s speed presumably creates havoc for the opposition and leads to many scoring opportunities for the former third overall pick.
As was shown throughout their time playing together, there are incongruencies between the two’s games. Unlike Galchenyuk, Byron plays more of a North-South type of game, utilizing the assets which are most conducive to his success.
Outside of being on a rush, Byron’s speed doesn’t generate consistent scoring chances in the offensive zone, as he’s often stymied by physicality. This is most evident while cycling, where the Canadiens attempt to generate most of their opportunities when fully installed in the opponent’s zone. Byron’s lack of creativity handcuffs not only him, but specifically Galchenyuk as well.
With these two styles not paralleling each other, it’s been difficult for the two to create offensive opportunities en masse for a team that is depraved of goals. This isn’t to say that the pair hasn’t produced something of note in the past, as there have been momentary lapses in decrepitude.
Byron has been a useful player when deployed in the top-six. However, the lack of success has far surpassed whatever offence production has been the by-product of Byron and Galchenyuk playing together.
In his first season in the NHL, Lehkonen has been, in the same way as Byron, a pleasant surprise. His 12 goals are good enough for fourth on the Canadiens and eighth in the NHL among rookies, pulling even with Brandon Perlini and Matthew Tkachuk.
Galchenyuk and Lehkonen’s games seem to be much more in unison than the games of Galchenyuk and Byron. Lehkonen is much more engaged in the forecheck and creates from below the goal line at a higher level of proficiency in comparison to Byron.
The 21-year-old has also shown a level of playmaking ability that is superior to that of Byron. This, coupled with an above average shot, leads one to conclude that he might be a better fit among the team’s predominant offensive contributors.
However, Lehkonen has seen an ample amount of time alongside the Canadiens’ premier centre, with relatively minimal statistical output to show for it. Not only that, but there have been moments, as has been the case with Byron, that it seems that there is absolutely nothing either could do to find the back of the net.
Despite the Canadiens needing offence instantly, the better long-term hope for success lies with the Finnish winger. Need not forget, this is Lehkonen’s first season of North American hockey following five seasons of professional hockey in Scandanavia. With each game he plays, he should become increasingly comfortable on a smaller ice surface, especially playing with players of the ilk that are available to play with him in Montreal.
Edited by Donna Sim