Hard-working Byers determined to make it
Hartford captain, 24, is a 'meat-and-potatoes' player with scoring ability
• 2009-10 Hartford Wolf Pack Watch
By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
His lone NHL stint with the Rangers in 2009-10 lasted five games, and left wing Dane Byers, 24, certainly made an impression in his early-season call-up from Hartford.
Byers, the Wolf Pack’s captain, got his five-game Rangers run off to a rousing start on Oct. 30 at Minnesota, when he scored in what was only his second NHL game. The goal was classic Byers as he was in the right place at the right time to capitalize on a turnover in the Wild zone.
"My grit is one of the things I like to base my game on," said Byers, a native of Nipawin, Saskatchewan. "Being in the corners and digging the puck out for my linemates and maybe sticking up for a teammate here and there. I'm a pretty meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. I get the puck in and I get the puck around the net, which is where I usually have most of my success."
On his scoring play, a wide-open Byers quickly pulled a rebound out of Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom's reach and hammered a shot into the goal for a 1-1 tie at 5:33 of the second period.
Byers also had 9:33 of ice time and a team-leading three shots at Minnesota, which was especially remarkable since he didn’t arrive at the rink until 20 minutes before game time and wasn't in uniform until eight minutes before the opening faceoff. With weather causing travel delays into the local airport, he had spent most of the day wondering if he was going to make it in time for the game.
|In the six years since he was drafted by the Rangers, Hartford captain Dane Byers has progressed steadily at both the the major-junior and AHL levels and is one of the most experienced Blueshirts prospects.|
On the night he scored, Byers skated on the third line with former Hartford teammate Artem Anisimov at center and fellow call-up P.A. Parenteau at right wing. He was moved to the fourth line for a 1-0 home win over Boston on Nov. 1, and played on Rangers captain Chris Drury’s line on Nov. 3 at Vancouver.
At 4:21 of the third period at Vancouver, the Rangers and Canucks got into a scuffle during a line change, and Byers was right in the middle of it -- challenging defenseman Kevin Bieksa after Bieksa pulled Byers out of the scrum as he tried to come to the aid of a teammate. Officials were quick to get between Byers and Bieksa, giving both players 10-minute misconduct penalties before they could actually fight. That didn't stop them from engaging in a shouting match that continued as they sat down in their respective penalty boxes.
Byers showed no fear in challenging the veteran Bieksa, but he wasn't done sending a message to the Canucks. With 1:10 remaining, just 14 seconds after Vancouver sealed its 4-1 win with an empty-net goal, Byers took on Canucks enforcer Tanner Glass in the Vancouver zone. Although he received a total of 29 minutes in penalties for his fight with Glass, Byers was saluted by appreciative teammates as he headed past them to the dressing room.
"It went all right," Byers said of his scrap with Glass. "We were down a couple goals with five minutes to go in the third period. Earlier in the game there were a few scuffles, so it was one of those moments where you kind of knew it was going to happen. The fight went all right for my first NHL fight."
Byers played two more games on the fourth line before returning to Hartford. He would go on to record several career-highs in the AHL, but never made it back to New York in a season of very few injuries.
At the time of his return to Hartford, Byers was told to sharpen some skills, and he dutifully did so.
"Once you've been (in the NHL) and you see what it's like and how you get treated, it definitely motivates you a little more," Byers said. "When I came back down to Hartford I was told to work on a few things, and that's what I tried to do."
Byers' performance certainly put him on the map for Rangers fans this past season, but he has been a key member of the Wolf Pack since making his AHL debut on April 7, 2006. Despite missing most of 2007-08 with the torn ACL, Byers' 239 regular-season games with the Wolf Pack are more than any other current forward in the Rangers system has played.
|Left wing Dane Byers was all smiles after scoring his first NHL goal as a Ranger on Oct. 30, 2009, in the second period of a game at St. Paul, Minnesota.|
The 2009-10 season was truly special for Byers, who tallied a career-high 25 goals, 27 assists and 52 points in 74 AHL games and was one of the game's Three Stars seven times. That included No. 1 Star sections on Nov. 27 vs. Portland, when he scored a game-winner at 1:22 of overtime, and on Jan. 22 vs. Manchester, when he scored another OT goal on a power play at the 2:20 mark.
Such clutch performances, as well as a March 26 game at Adirondack when he scored at 9:37 of the third to force overtime, were a big reason Byers was an easy choice to be the Wolf Pack's captain upon his return from the NHL stint with the Rangers in mid-November.
"I have always kind of considered myself as a leader on the team," Byers said. "Just because I had the letter wasn't going to change the way I played or things like that. But as far as maybe in the dressing room, I was a little more vocal, probably, to the younger guys in helping them along."
Byers had a seven-game point scoring streak in October and November, and by the end of the season, as the Pack came up short of a playoff berth, he was on fire with goals in seven of Hartford's last 11 games.
"That's the type of year he was having," said Gordie Clark, the Rangers' Director, Player Personnel. "He kept his stats up there at the end, and had an injury-free year, which is important because players can get hurt from time to time playing the way he plays."
Missing the playoffs hurt the competitive Byers more than any injuries might have.
"I don't know exactly what went wrong," he said of Hartford’s season. "I know we had some really good parts of the year, and I felt that if we had made the playoffs we could have done some damage. Towards the end of the year, we were playing our best hockey, but we had a long stretch there in January and February where we had guys called up and a lot of injuries. I think four of our top six defensemen were injured at that time. You don't want to blame things on injuries, but I think that had a part in some of it."
Six years in the Blueshirts' pipeline have helped Byers develop, and he appears ready for the next step.
"He'll come back to camp with even more maturity," said Clark.” When that happens, usually it's just a question of your skating having to be taken up another notch, which he's trying to do."
In Byers' view, becoming a regular NHL player also means developing some scoring finesse.
Drafted 48th overall with the Rangers' second of four second-round picks in 2004, Byers returned to the WHL's Prince Albert Raiders, the major-junior team located closest to his Northern Saskatchewan hometown, for two seasons after the draft and raised his scoring totals in each.
The Rangers chose him after he scored nine goals and 17 points in 51 games as a draft-eligible player. By the time he left major-junior, he was a 21-goal and 48-point scorer. He kept blossoming at Hartford with 17 goals in his first full season with the Pack, 23 in his second, and the career-high 25 in his third.
Byers got his first taste of the NHL in February 2008, when he was called up for a home game against the Los Angeles Kings. He saw just 5:05 of ice time in that debut, but managed to register three hits.
In his return to the NHL last fall, Byers was much more comfortable.
"I felt pretty good," he said of the five games he played with the Rangers. "I felt I could keep up with the pace. I think the biggest difference is that when you're playing with the guys at the NHL level, they're always usually in the right spot at the right time. It almost made things easier, but I feel that I can definitely play at that level, and hopefully I'll get the opportunity."