The first thing that stands out about the 2019 NHL draft class is how forward-heavy the top 10 has been projected to be. Since the beginning of the 2018-19 campaign, rankings have shown a strong class of talent up front worthy of single-digit selection, but one name has consistently stood out: defenceman Bowen Byram.
The B.C. native has been considered the best blue liner of the bunch all year and was often projected as the lone rearguard to go in the top 10 — and that was even before his offensive game really took off.
Here’s what you need to know about Byram, the top-ranked Canadian.
Team: Vancouver Giants (WHL)
Age: 18 (born June 13, 2001)
From: Cranbrook, B.C.
Weight: 194 pounds
He found his scoring touch
When asked to reflect on his mindset heading into this season, Byram indicated that he wanted to continue to focus on his “complete game” and “maybe chip in a bit more offensively.”
Mission accomplished. Not only did he “chip in” on the scoring front, Byram led all CHL defenders in goals (26) and game-winners (9) and became a true scoring threat with each shift. He ranked third among WHL defencemen in points with 71 in 67 games to help propel the Giants to the top of the Western Conference.
And clearly, he was only just getting started…
He lit up the post-season
Byram followed up an incredible regular season with an even better playoff run. He led all WHL skaters — we’re talking defence and forwards here — in assists (18) and points (26) through 22 playoff games in what was a remarkable post-season run all the way to the final, where they lost to the Prince Albert Raiders in seven games.
“Pretty cool,” he said of his production, via Sportsnet’s Luke Fox. “I don’t think it could’ve worked out more perfect for me. Obviously, I would’ve liked to win the Western League championship, but someone’s gotta lose.
“We’ll be back next year.”
He was named the CHL’s top prospect
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise, considering his excellent season, that Byram was named the CHL’s Top Prospect of 2018-19.
“There’s so many great players throughout the leagues, so many great prospects,” he told the CHL’s website. “To be named as one of the best is pretty special. It’s definitely a humbling moment.”
The past five winners were Andrei Svechnikov, Nolan Patrick, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Connor McDavid, and Sam Bennett.
Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, said Byram “hit all the marks” of a well-rounded prospect.
“We take a viewpoint of who’s someone you can build around, and Bowen Byram meets all the little boxes we needed to check off there,” Marr said, via NHL.com. “He’s immensely talented, but his character, his attitude, his compete, his battle, it just hits all the marks.
“There’s a term scouts use when they go around, this guy gets it. And Bowen Byram is one of the players that just gets it,” Marr continued. “He knows what needs to be done at the right time on the ice, he knows what the situation calls for and he’s proven that he’s capable of rising to the occasion, whether it’s to defend a goal, create a scoring chance, put an opponent in his place. He checks off all the boxes there.”
He models his game after Morgan Rielly
Byram’s stature and style of play follows the trend of smooth-skating, offensive-minded defenders excelling in today’s NHL. It’s no surprise, then, that he looks to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top rearguard — and fellow B.C. blue liner — Morgan Rielly as the guy he models his play after.
“I like watching him. He plays on a really good team. Good on both sides of the puck. Kills penalties. Plays the power play. That’s where I want to be, hopefully,” Byram told Fox.
“Definitely when he’s on the ice, I like watching him, but I usually get watching some of the other guys, too. But I try to watch him,” Byram said. “A multi-tool player. Hopefully something I can grow into.”
That fits with how Colorado’s director of amateur scouting, Alan Hepple, described Byram:
“He’s the new age defenceman,” Hepple told The Canadian Press. “He skates, he moves the puck. His puck management is unbelievable, his sense for the game. He’s got that little bite in his game, that grit that I think is important.
“He’s not going to be stopped. This kid is really good.”