This piece was written by special contributor Chris Faber, who can be found on Twitter at @ChrisFaber39.
Bowen Byram might think that he’s a long way away from playing with Cale Makar, but he might be closer than he thinks.
This past fall Bowen Byram returned to Vancouver to play his third and most likely final season with the Giants in the Western Hockey League. He looked like a different player this year. His confidence was through the roof, he looked calm during every shift and physically dominated his opponents.
There’s a lot more to see from Byram, he was the most skilled player on the ice 99% of the time. If he wanted to control the puck for a whole two-minute shift he would.
— Stephen Hawco (@stephenhawco7) February 29, 2020
His passes are rock hard, his shot has eyes and his skating is as smooth as hand sanitizer.
These are the reasons why he went fourth overall in the 2019 NHL entry draft. He’s one of, if not the best defensive prospect outside of the NHL. He knew that the thing he needed to work on was his defensive game and that is what he focused on this year with the Giants.
— Stephen Hawco (@stephenhawco7) January 20, 2020
Byram knows that a lot of other draft picks around him would go on to play in different leagues or make the jump to the AHL. He understands that a different league can bring bigger challenges but appreciated the chance to come back to Vancouver to improve on the weaker parts of his game.
“I think it’s my 200-foot game, that’s what I’m kind of worried about,” Byram said. “I’m just trying to have fun and help the team win for the most part. I love the city, I love everything about it. To come back to a familiar spot is definitely helpful for me. It’s been a really fun couple of years and I’m happy I spent it in Vancouver.”
A man who has gotten to see Bowen Byram grow over the past few seasons is the play-by-play voice of the Vancouver Giants, Dan O’Connor. I asked Dan if he thought that returning to Vancouver would help or hurt Byram’s development as we are seeing a lot of prospects of his caliber move on to a more difficult league and challenges themselves with tougher competition.
“I’d like to think it can help him,” said O’Connor. “He’s always been a leader, he’s always been someone who commands respect when he walks into a room and it’s been an interesting season for him because we haven’t had the same success this year. Maybe that’s a good thing because it’s forced him to maybe look at himself in the mirror a couple of times and almost reinvent the way he leads a bit. Since the World Juniors, he’s come back with a real purpose and has been just a wonderful leader and example for the Vancouver Giants.”
Byram said that he follows the NHL pretty closely but has been impressed by the rookie performance from fellow defenceman Cale Makar.
“Yeah, he’s a super good player, to see him having success as a rookie is super cool,” Byram said. “Hopefully, he can keep it going and the Avalanche can go on a deep run.”
I followed that up by asking how Cale Makar sounds as his defensive partner in the near future.
“Yeah,” he laughed. “He’s a really good player so whenever you get a chance to be on the ice with guys like him, MacKinnon, Landeskog, Rantanen all of them. You really have to watch close and soak everything in. It’s a long way away but I am looking forward to it.”
Giants coach Michael Dyck has relied upon Byram in all situations this year, using him as much as possible, which means playing with a different defense partner almost every shift.
“No matter who he plays with he just makes them better. He’s the type of guy who knows exactly how much time he’s got. He can distribute the puck anywhere or he can move with the puck. He releases it quickly and easily finds his teammates sticks. I think this is the best we have seen from Bo, he’s having fun and has been such a big part of things here.”
— Stephen Hawco (@stephenhawco7) February 17, 2020
There’s a lot to like about Bowen Byram as he’s successfully checked all the boxes from a top prospect in his draft plus one season. The next step is watching his game transition to the NHL level and if he will be able to take his confidence from the Western Hockey League and be the same dominant force on hockey’s biggest stage.
The Avalanche are going to have the chance to have one of the most dynamic pairings for the next ten years with the combination of Makar and Byram.
Byram might think he’s still a “ways away” from joining the Avalanche full-time but the season premature end to his WHL season and the delayed restart of the NHL season might give him an unexpected opportunity to make an impression on his NHL club.
If he can simply translate his game from the WHL to the NHL, Colorado’s blue line, a problem since Rob Blake departed over a decade ago, will find itself among the league’s elite for the foreseeable future.