There are still a lot of questions as to where Colorado Avalanche prospect Bowen Byram is going to play his next season. Still only 19 years old, the former fourth overall selection has proven he’s too good for the WHL, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s ready for the NHL. Avs GM Joe Sakic has been very non-committal when it comes to whether or not he sees Byram in the NHL next season. Sakic has mentioned fellow defensive prospect Conor Timmins as an almost certainty to be on the roster, but when it comes to Byram, Sakic sounds a lot less certain. Add to that the acquisition of a high-end left defender in Devon Toews and all signs point to the Avalanche viewing Byram as another year away from the NHL.
Too young for the AHL and with an unprecedented season in front of us, Byram’s 2021 hockey season is still shrouded in uncertainty. One thing that is certain is Byram will be at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton next month and is going to be key to any success Team Canada has.
Aside from Kirby Dach—who was selected one pick ahead of Byram in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft—Byram has been the best player at Canada’s Selection Camp. As returning players, both Dach and Byram are expected to have letters on their sweaters as part of the team’s leadership group, and both are taking time during this camp to show everyone why.
They’ve both been standing out in a big way—particularly during the games. Hockey Canada has separated the roster into two cohorts to strengthen COVID protection protocol while also attempting to create a sense of competition. Head Coach Andre Tourigny specifically put Byram and Dach on different teams in an effort to create strong competition between the two sides.
With most of the players at camp having not played competitive hockey for nearly nine months, the two games we’ve seen so far have been of much higher quality than you’d expect from a training camp—all with Dach and Byram leading the way.
With his team trailing 4-1 in Sunday’s intrasquad game, Byram took over. While he was on the ice, it was rare for the puck to be on anyone else’s stick. On the following play, he was able to show off his mobility while perfectly setting up Jamieson Rees for the goal.
On his next shift, Byram helped his team get within one goal when he made a strong play to keep the puck in the offensive zone while showing great vision to find Ryan Suzuki in the slot.
Earlier in the game, Byram showed he’s so much more than a guy who can create offense from the back end. After trying to do just that and rushing to the net, Byram used his high-end skating ability to fight on the back check and put pressure on the puck carrier—eventually forcing the opposition off sides.
Plays like these were happening nearly every time Byram stepped on the ice, and while it’s only a scrimmage, the competition level has been high given these players are all trying to make Team Canada. They aren’t normal intrasquad games either; they are the best prospects in the world playing at a high level, and Byram stood out among them.
Playing mostly with Anaheim Ducks prospect Jamie Drysdale, Byram is set to be Canada’s top defense pairing when the World Juniors begins. He will likely play on both the power play and the penalty kill while logging top minutes. He is by far Canada’s most polished defenseman and will be relied upon to carry a big load for the team.
After their second scrimmage, Dach had this to say about Byram:
"He's a lot of fun to be around off the ice, but on the ice, he's a pain to play against."— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 23, 2020
Kirby Dach talks about playing with and against Bowen Byram. pic.twitter.com/Ku5lLKRPOx
Praising a teammate is one thing, talking about how hard a defender he is to play against is another—particularity coming from a guy like Dach who spent last season playing against top competition in the NHL.
A few years ago Avalanche fans got to watch as both Cale Makar and Timmins stood out as the best players on a gold medal-winning Canadian team. This winter, they’ll do so again with Byram. Regardless of how the rest of his 2021 season plays out, this tournament will give everyone an opportunity to get even more excited about the future of the blue line group in Colorado.