With so much uncertainty surrounding the 2020-21 hockey season in North America, a number of top prospects are looking to continue their development in European professional leagues - Bowen Byram and Montreal Canadiens prospect Cole Caufield among them.
Over the weekend, a Swedish sports site mentioned Byram among a number of high-end youngsters that are being recruited to play in Europe while their North American seasons are on hiatus.
As of right now, the NHL is hoping to start next season sometime in early December, though that’s far from a sure thing. Add to that the fact that the CHL, NCAA and even the AHL aren’t sure when their seasons will start and it makes a lot of sense that young players would look for other ways to play.
Those leagues all hope to get underway a little before the new NHL season begins but there is no guarantee that happens. Many who follow the leagues closely fear that with the inability to sell tickets and a closed Canada/US border, some leagues might not be able to have a season at all.
That makes things very difficult for teams looking to continue a (somewhat) normal development plan for their prospects.
Drafted fourth overall by the Colorado Avalanche at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Byram is one of the best defensemen currently outside of the NHL. That said, it is not a guarantee that he will make the Avs this coming season. He is too good for junior hockey but that doesn’t mean a player is ready to play in the NHL. Particularly for a team that as aspirations of being one of the top Stanley Cup contenders.
Thanks to the NHL’s current agreement with the CHL, Byram would be ineligible to play in the AHL for another season, meaning he would be forced back to the WHL’s Vancouver Giants is he doesn’t make the Avalanche lineup. While it wouldn’t be the end of the world to dominate junior hockey for one more season, sending Byram back to the WHL is believed to be sub-optimal for his growth.
What’s even worse for his development would be to have Byram sit around until December - whichever league he is destined to play in next season. That would mean he would have been away from competitive game action for nine months. That’s something that would stunt anyone’s development.
So the team and prospect are looking for other options and it looks like Sweden might be the best one. We already know that the Avalanche are open to letting their youngsters play in Europe as just last week the team announced that they have loaned 2018 first round pick Martin Kaut to HC Dynamo of the Czech league.
The one hiccups is that if he signs in the SHL (Sweden’s top league) , Byram would have to be under contract for the entire season. That may not be a sticking point if the Avalanche were planning on waiting another year before making him an NHL regular. But if they are planning to bring Byram to training camp and allowing him to fight for a spot in the opening night lineup, he would have to sign in Sweden’s second-tier league.
Nothing concrete has come yet but it’s looking more and more like Colorado’s top prospect could be headed to Europe to play - at least until North American hockey returns in December. It would be the next step in the development of a kid that many believe is going to be a big part of any future success the Avalanche have.