Blaine Byron is one of the less heralded NCAA free agents, but shouldn’t be overlooked after a breakout season with the University of Maine. He’s signed a one-year AHL contract with the Springfield Thunderbirds, the minor league affiliate of the Florida Panther. According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, his contract comes with a catch; Byron’s deal will have an out clause that will allow him to sign an NHL contract with another team should there be an offer during the season. Friedman believes that Florida would then be given the chance to match the contract.
The most interesting part of agreeing to an AHL contract is that it will keep Byron in contention for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team. Friedman’s belief that Byron is signing this deal instead of a two-year entry-level contract doesn’t make much sense without the Olympic route, since he’ll be limited to entry-level regulations even if he waits until mid-season.
There’s no guarantee that Byron would be asked to join the Canadian Olympic team, but his talent last year at Maine sure blossomed. Given a prominent role, the 22-year old Byron scored 41 points in 36 games and was generally the most dangerous player on the ice any given night. Selected in the sixth round by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013, he still has plenty of work to do to get to the NHL.
Pens desperately need center depth and develop both college players and undersized players better than any other team in the league and they passed on him.
Take from that what you will.