Byers combines grit, production for Wolf Pack

by Bob Crawford || AHL On The Beat Archive

The New York Ranger organization is starting to reap the benefits of the bevy of draft picks they acquired for the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, with several of those selections enjoying good success with this year’s Wolf Pack team.

Every club hopes to have a nice mix of power and skill on their squad, and a number of the Wolf Pack’s youngsters exhibit that balance strongly within their own individual games.

One of those performers is 21-year-old left-wing Dane Byers.

The Byers name is well-known in pro hockey, with Dane’s first cousin Lyndon having posted a solid 10-year professional career, which included 279 NHL games. Anyone who saw the rough-and-tumble Lyndon play wouldn’t be surprised that his younger cousin has shown himself to be a hard-driving physical force on the ice.

What some observers might not have expected, though, is the fact that Dane Byers possesses a notably deft offensive touch.

After getting off to a slow start offensively, as did almost all of his teammates, Byers has positioned himself strongly as one of the Wolf Pack’s most consistent point producers who isn’t named Ryan Callahan. While this might have surprised some prognosticators, Byers expected it of himself.

“I think that my last year Junior I felt real confident bringing up my offensive numbers,” the Nipawin, Sask., native says, “and I’ve just got to continue to do that to get to the next level (the NHL), and get better at all parts of my game.”

A second-round Ranger pick in that bountiful 2004 draft, Byers already has the look of a solidly well-rounded player. At 6-3 and 190 pounds he is blessed with good size, and he puts that big body to good use.

“I take pride in sticking up for my teammates and doing the little things on the ice,” Byers says, “like getting into the corners and digging pucks out. And I think that’s a big key in the role of a power forward, just to play simple and things usually come for you.”

A big point of emphasis, too, for Byers, as it is for most young players in the AHL, is to continue improving his play away from the puck.

“My last couple of years in Junior I had been playing against the other teams’ top lines,” he says, “and when you play against top lines you have to be good defensively. I definitely take pride in my defensive play, and like everything else, I’m trying to continue to get better at that.”

On the offensive side of the puck, Byers’ confidence seemed to blossom when he was put on a line with fellow rookies, and fellow 2004 draftees, Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky. About the time those three were first teamed up was when the Wolf Pack collectively began to get rolling, and that hardly seems coincidental.

Although the three youngsters haven’t always played together since then, the coaching staff has often gone back to that combination when the team needs a spark.

“I think all of us are in the same situation,” says Byers of his sometime linemates. “We’re all young, this is our first year pro, and we’ve really stuck together I think. Dubinsky and Callahan are both real offensive guys, so as long as I keep getting them the puck and going to the net and creating things, then good things are going to continue to happen.

“With all of the young guys here I think the future of the Rangers is looking bright, and that’s real exciting to be a part of.”

It did not take Byers long from when he first joined the Wolf Pack late last season, after his Junior campaign in the Western League had concluded, to establish that he was going to play an in-your-face style on every shift. Being a rookie, he was not well-known as a player that was going to make opponents need to keep their heads up, but he is rapidly gaining that status.

One might think that with Byers weighing in at less than 200 pounds, that style would take a toll on him, but he says that’s not necessarily the case.

“I don’t think it’s too tough,” is the way Byers puts it. “The way I play, I’m going to create some confrontations, that’s the biggest thing, and I’m always ready for that. They (the opposition) know I’m going to finish my checks on them, so obviously I expect them to finish their checks on me. I look at that as another one of those little things that is hopefully going to make me a better player.”

One thing is for certain, and that is that Byers is well aware that playing that physical, power game represents his best chance to achieve his ultimate goal.

“There are guys in the NHL right now making a living doing that,” he says, “and if I can continue doing that I think that’s going to help me make it to the NHL. So I’m going to keep working on driving to the net and shooting the puck.

“So far I think it’s gone pretty well. I’ve had some ups and downs, but I think I’ve been pretty consistent throughout the start of the year, and all I have to do is continue that and keep contributing as well as I can.”