This edition of the Under the Radar series featurew two players who could have had value for a playoff-bound team but escaped being moved at the trade deadline.
In a lost season fans naturally focus on the issues with the team. That means positive performances can go unnoticed.
Byron was a waiver wire pickup from Calgary. When he arrived he Montreal, not much was expected of him. He was able to provide 11 goals in 2016-17. Last season, Byron used his breakout speed as a weapon and finished second on the team in goals at 22.
This season, Byron has earned an Under the Radar nod. He is only on pace for 18 goals, currently sitting third on the team in goals with 13. Byron is also one of the few Canadiens who give an honest effort in each game played.
What has been more impressive, due to a lack depth down the middle, was his willingness to move to center in a top six role after the injury bug starting to bite. Despite the fact that he had never played center professionally, Byron took his new role without complaints and was surprisingly effective.
Byron’s versatility, speed, effort, willingness to go to battle and durability (has played in 100 consecutive games) should have made him a valuable commodity at the deadline. In my opinion, NHL GMs may have been attracted to the fact Byron is an 18-to-20 goal scorer under contract for one more season at 1.167 million dollars.
For being a true team player and doing what was asked without complaint or excuses, Paul Byron earns my first Under the Radar nod.
The next selection for Under the Radar may surprise some but he has earned it none the less.
Niemi, like the Canadiens, suffered a dreadful start to the 2017-18 campaign. He began the season in Pittsburgh only to be waived twice finally landing with the Habs.
Once in Montreal however, Niemi wasted no time in making himself noticed and valued. His first start as a Canadien came versus the Predators in Nashville where he backstopped the team to a shootout loss.
While Niemi’s record with the Canadiens may only seem pedestrian at three wins, four losses (two regulation and two shootout losses), it must be said his teammates have not been strong defensivley in front of him. His statistics in a Canadiens jersey of 2.60 goals against average and .922 save percentage are considerably better than his season numbers of 3-6-2, 3.76 GAA, .892 Sv%.
There is no question his best years are behind him, however, Niemi has shown capable of providing decent secondary goaltending with the Habs. As he was not nabbed at the trade deadline, Niemi will complete the season in Montreal showcasing himself for a few suitors in free agency.
For stepping up his game and possibly extending his NHL career as a backup for another season, Niemi earns my Under the Radar selection.