CALGARY, AB -- It's been a coming-of-age season for Paul Byron.
The 24-year-old forward came into the 2013-14 campaign looking like a new man, playing with more confidence and consistency then he ever had in his career, and has turned more than few heads since being recalled by the Flames in late November.
He credits his progression to the birth of his daughter, Elianna, who celebrated her first birthday on Mar. 1.
"She's given me more maturity to my game and my life," he mused. "I have a great family back home, who are so supportive, and I want to try to make things great for them. The best way to do that is to get an NHL contract and stay up here.
"I try to be the best guy on the ice in practice and in games. I want to show that I belong here."
While many fans have only had 38 games this season to see the difference in Byron's game from years past, Abbotsford Heat head coach Troy G. Ward has witnessed his evolution over the last year.
The bench boss has seen the forward become more poised this season, maturing into a consistent and steady contributor who isn't going to handcuff the team by taking meaningless penalties.
"Paulie's always been like a little raft on the ocean," he said earlier this year. "He was really high on the waves then he was really low, then really high, then really low. His emotions swung so high during the games that he got really mad and then he got frustrated, then he got angry, then he got calm. It just went through a swing of things.
"So what Paul has done is he's got some balance to him. He's matured off the ice. He's added to his family. As he's done this, he's slowed down and with that he's been more consistent … He doesn't have those highs and lows. Remember a couple of years ago when we first got him, and even last year, he'd snap and take stupid penalties for killing guys? You'd think, 'Why is he doing that? He's one of our better players.'"
Looking back on his time with the Heat, Byron had 40 PIM to his name in 2011-12 and sat in sin bin for 38 minutes in 2012-13. This year? He took just two minors in 23 games in Abbotsford. In Calgary, he has just 10 PIM on his stat sheet after 38 games played.
"Yeah, I think I'm more disciplined out there then before," he said. "More even-keel ... when things don't go your way, you tend to get frustrated. I think sometimes, I let my emotions get the best of me but this year, I've done a great job of being mature and focusing my energy in positive ways."
That mindset has paid off big-time, particularly post-Olympic break. He's rattled off seven points since the Flames returned to action on Feb. 27, four of which have come in his last four games.
He's also been able to assert himself physically all year, throwing 43 hits and battling hard in the tough areas of the ice.
"He's been given a chance and he's been taking steps," Flames assistant coach Martin Gelinas told CalgaryFlames.com. "Since the break, he's probably been one of our best players. Bob always preaches about details and playing the buck. And he's playing the buck.
"He's bringing character, speed, and he's not afraid - for a little guy - to get involved. He's one of my favourites, just the way he approaches the game. He plays the right way. He's not afraid to drive to the net, get in front of the net, and make things happen. He's been a pleasure to have."
Given his steady progression this year, it appears Byron's best is yet to come.
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