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Looking Forward: What Bowen Byram will realistically provide to the Avalanche

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Let the record show: The kid is projected to be gooooood...

NHL: JUL 13 Avalanche Training Camp
Bowen Byram skating during Colorado Avalanche development camp last year. He’s going to be a good addition to the team.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s probably fair to count Colorado Avalanche defensive prospect Bowen Byram among the collective existence of human beings experiencing uncertainty in 2020. Such is life this year.

The daily routine has been upended to become something else, people are adapting in search of resiliency and most are seeking clarity even while looking at a 2021 forecast that seems just as murky.

Hockey players are no different.

While fans and players alike wait to see what’s next, we’re taking a look at some of the finer details of a handful of the big-name prospects in the Avalanche system in a new series called “Looking Forward.” Where are they in their development curve? How do they project when compared to similar players taken around their draft slot? What does their path to the NHL look like?

First up: the Avalanche’s highly-touted defensive prospect Bowen Byram.

Bowen Byram Excelled in a Shortened 2019-20 Season

Byram’s 2019-20 season can be best described in a few ways:

  • During the first half of the season, he really focused on the defensive details of his game (The Athletic, sub-required) while trying to find an identity within his new role as a team leader.
  • He went to the World Junior Championship (WJC) and played a key role for Canada as the tournament progressed, earning more ice time and contributing on both the power play and penalty kill.
  • Then, he returned from the World Juniors and absolutely went off.

Before the WJC break (plus an additional week off after to refocus his game), Byram had 19 points in 27 games. After the December tournament, Byram dominated the WHL with 33 points in 23 games. If you take out the 2 points he had in the first six games after returning, that’s 31 points in 17 games to close out the shortened season (stats courtesy of eliteprospects.com).

It’s also important to note that Byram played the entirety of his D-1 (draft year minus 1) season as a 17-year-old. He’s young for his class, and his numbers in his D+1 (draft year plus 1) season reflect growth and maturity both on and off the ice.

How Does He Project to Similar Players?

It is an imperfect practice, as it’s pretty difficult to accurately project the impact a player will have in any given NHL lineup. But if you look at similar players drafted from similar leagues and compare their point totals in D-1 and D+1 seasons—and in the season where they reached the NHL full-time (if they did at all)—it’s reasonable to come up with empirical evidence to suggest how a player might project. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll look at a group of 14 defensemen drafted in the top 10 from the CHL between 2010 and 2015. When they arrived at the NHL level, what was their impact on the roster in terms of points?

There are of course other metrics to consider, such as defensive usage, zone entry and exit percentage and puck possession, but this experiment, we’re only looking at the offensive impact you could theoretically project from Byram once he makes it to the NHL. In other words, it’s an incomplete analysis, but hopefully it’s at least a fun way to provide a little insight into the offensive player Bowen Byram could become for Colorado.

Comparing Bowen Byram’s P/G to Similar Defensemen

Player Name Drafted Year League PPG D-1 Season PPG D+1 Season PPG NHL Arrival Season Career PPG in NHL
Player Name Drafted Year League PPG D-1 Season PPG D+1 Season PPG NHL Arrival Season Career PPG in NHL
Bowen Byram 4th Overall 2019 WHL 1.06 ppg 1.04 ppg N/A N/A
Ivan Provorov 7th Overall 2015 WHL 1.02 ppg 1.18 ppg .37 ppg .42 ppg
Aaron Ekblad 1st Overall 2014 OHL .91 ppg N/A (NHL Arrival) .48 ppg .46 ppg
Haydn Fleury 7th Overall 2014 WHL .66 ppg .44 ppg .12 ppg .17 ppg
Seth Jones 4th Overall 2013 WHL .92 ppg N/A (NHL Arrival) .32 ppg .49 ppg
Darnell Nurse 7th Overall 2013 OHL .60 ppg .78 ppg .14 ppg .35 ppg
Ryan Murray 2nd Overall 2012 WHL .67 ppg .77 ppg .32 ppg .32 ppg
Griffin Reinhart 4th Overall 2012 WHL .62 ppg .49 ppg N/A Only Played 37 Career NHL Games
Morgan Reilly 5th Overall 2012 WHL 1 ppg .9 ppg .36 ppg .52 ppg
Matt Dumba 7th Overall 2012 WHL .82 ppg .67 ppg .28 ppg .42 ppg
Derrick Pouliot 8th Overall 2012 WHL .82 ppg 1.02 ppg .21 ppg NHL Depth Defensemen/Career AHLer
Slater Koekkoek 10th Overall 2012 OHL .69 ppg .45 ppg .14 ppg .19 ppg
Dougie Hamilton 9th Overall 2011 OHL .87 ppg 1.44 ppg .38 ppg .54 ppg
Erik Dudbranson 3rd Overall 2010 OHL .56 ppg .77 ppg .11 ppg .14 ppg
Dylan McIlrath 10th Overall 2010 WHL .37 ppg .37 ppg .12 ppg Career AHL defenseman
All stats compiled from eliteprospects.com and hockey-reference.com

Looking at this list, a few things stand out:

  • There are some big names on the list. Players like Dougie Hamilton, Morgan Rielly and Seth Jones have solidified their roles as elite top-2 defensemen that can play in all situations while impacting the game at a high level offensively.
  • Considering where they were drafted, there are also some complete duds on the list. Derrick Pouliot, Dylan McIlrath and Griffin Reinhart probably stand out the most, but there are some other players that just never quite cut the rug the way they were projected to.
  • Byram’s ppg totals in his D-1 and D+1 seasons stand out in particular. He’s been a top-of-the-line defensemen in the WHL the last 2 years, and compared to other top-10 defensemen draft picks over the course of five years, his numbers are pretty astounding.
  • Making the jump from junior to the NHL is hard. The ppg totals reflect this difficult transition, and the old adage is that defensemen take longer to develop than their peers who play the ice surface deeper in the offensive zone. However, there are some encouraging signs as well, as most of these defensemen have respectable numbers offensively over their careers in the NHL so far.
  • It’s unreasonable to expect high-quality offensive output, on par with Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes, from Byram. That really drives home the point of how incredible Makar and Hughes were in their rookie seasons—unheard of, really.

Essentially, Byram’s numbers show he is offensively talented at an elite level. Even on a Vancouver Giants team that was going through somewhat of a rebuild this year, his numbers were still top of the line. He also proved at the WJC that he can impact the game defensively and be a force at that end of the ice.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Clearly, the Avalanche organization doesn’t feel Byram is ready for the NHL. It just signed Devon Toews to a 4-year deal, and its left and right sides are locked up for next season. Even if Erik Johnson isn’t ready to go at the start of the year, Conor Timmins is waiting in the wings.

Barring an unforeseen trade of Johnson or Ian Cole, it’s likely Byram is sent back to the WHL for 2020-21. There are reports he could head to Sweden for the season to face better competition, but nothing has been decided yet.

The fact of the matter is: Byram is a cut above the rest of the players in the WHL. He’s playing hockey with kids. Is another year in the WHL really best for his development? Probably not. However, players like Connor McDavid and the recently drafted Alexis Lafreniere dominated their respective leagues for three straight years before being drafted and making the jump to the NHL, so is another year in the WHL going to cripple Byram’s development? No.

The reality is, the Avalanche are in win-now mode. The team has doubled-down on that directive with Brandon Saad and Toews, and is doing its best to maximize the final year of Gabriel Landeskog’s and Makar’s cheap contracts while also building value around Nathan MacKinnon’s absurd discount. The Avalanche doesn’t need to take a risk on Byram and can afford to give him one more year of development, regardless of where it takes place.

The good news is that projections show Byram is likely to have a significant impact on the NHL roster from the start, even if his role is somewhat diminished by players like Makar, Toews and Samuel Girard.

Here’s to the future, folks.

Next up in the Looking Forward series is Alex Newhook. Stay tuned.