Bowen Byram has long been pegged as the top defender for the 2019 class. He was selected third overall by the Vancouver Giants in the 2016 WHL Bantam draft behind Peyton Krebs and Kirby Dach – two premier forwards in the upcoming crop.
Byram skated in 11 regular season contests as a 15-year-old two seasons ago to get his feet wet. It’s an impressive feat for a youngster to suit up in CHL contests as a 15-year-old, and while he didn’t produce any points, he kept his head above water.
His draft-minus one campaign featured increasing confidence and production as the year went on. It culminated with a point-per-game rate in the playoffs as the Giants were knocked off in a seven-game first round series. As a feather in the cap of the 6’1 192lbs defender, he was invited and cracked the Canadian U18 squad as an underaged player.
While there, he showcased his terrific mobility, creativity and elusiveness. He also got caught a few times and was stapled to the bench. These are the learning opportunities for a mobile, offensive blueliner.
Heading into 2018-19, Byram was rated as an A-level prospect by Central Scouting and has lived amongst the top 10 skaters on each of my released lists – including sitting sixth overall in the most recent February Top 100 edition.
Considering the expectations, Byram was somewhat average to begin his draft-eligible campaign. He began the year with just two points through his first six contests. However, he’s long since put that in the rear-view mirror. The WHL Player of the Month for January has been on a prolonged hot stretch of late.
Byram has been clicking at a point-per-game rate through 53 contests and has his Giants squad amongst the CHL’s very best teams. This will likely mean he’s not available for this year’s version of the World Under-18 Championships that takes place during the CHL playoffs.
With 14 games remaining on the schedule, Byram has a chance to join some rare air when it comes to goal-scoring blueliners. His 21 goals on the season, sits as the fourth most by a U18 WHL defender in the last 25 years. He’s already surpassed WHL alums, Matt Dumba (20), Shea Theodore (19), Dion Phaneuf (16), Ivan Provorov (15) and Josh Morrissey (15) in that category.
It’s unlikely he’ll catch Ian White’s 32 markers but Kris Russell and his 26 tallies sitting in second place may be in jeopardy.
Byram can beat goaltenders in any number of ways.
Notice how he uses the first deke to create the necessary room to get his shot off in that last clip. The second movement is to alter his release point to catch the netminder off-guard. Changing a release point, exhibiting calm and patience in scoring positions, and not being afraid to attack the high-danger areas are translatable skills – even if he won’t catch a defender biting so hard to have his ankles broken at the NHL-level.
We’re seeing more and more backs selected early who may fit more of a rover tag than a true defenseman. I wouldn’t put Byram into that category although he does walk the line nicely. He’s not afraid to pinch – at times during inopportune times, but when he’s right he keeps plays alive and will continue his down low play until he sees a moment to retreat.
This has led to a bevy of created chances from the home-plate area.
He’ll also start a rush or jump into the play through the neutral zone to create odd-man rushes. This style is being utilized far more often in the NHL than in previous generations. Activating the backend is crucial in facilitating waves of offence.
Byram’s speed and puck skills force defenders to make a decision when he’s leading the attack. Do they close the gap quickly and risk losing him wide, or do they give him space and allow for that shot of his to blast away? Neither are good options and often the defender will hedge and be beaten regardless.
It’s not just his goal-scoring prowess that makes the Cranbrook, BC native so dangerous. He’s not afraid to step up and take the body in open ice or impose his will in the corners. He can see the play develop and anticipate his moment to step up.
This hit earlier in the week resulted in a major for checking to the head:
Finally, despite being known for his offensive prowess, the 17-year-old’s skating ability allows him to make strong defensive plays. Additionally, Byram is a competitor. He rarely gives up on a play and can use that to make desperation plays with regular success.
The name of the game with Byram is potential. Despite being an accomplished producer at the junior level, you can see the potential for so much more. His June birthdate only reinforces that. He’s competing against players who are up to nine months his senior in this 2019 grouping. That’s a tangible difference, especially at this stage of development.
Whoever is fortunate enough to select him in the top 10 this June will be getting a player who is likely two years out from the NHL but has the potential to be a number one defender down the line.
Those don’t grow on trees.
Thanks to Hockey Prospects Centre, and Draft Shifts for some of the clippings.
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