Bowen Byram checks all the boxes for an elite prospect; good size - check, elite skating - check, cannon for a shot - check, hockey bloodlines - check, great youth production - check. Drafted at number four in the 2019 entry draft, Byram was widely considered the top defensive prospect that year for all of the reasons listed, plus the one unlisted trait that had Byram higher atop my rankings than any other Mile High Hockey writer. Bowen Byram is a little nasty.
When the Colorado Avalanche selected Byram after a season where the defender notched over a point per game for the Vancouver Giants of the WHL, he was widely regarded for his tremendous skating ability, offensive IQ, and skill with the puck - all of which were considered elite for a defender of his age. What some others also took note of were Byram’s confidence (bordering on the edge of cockiness) and desire to mix it up with opponents. This self-belief, willingness to stick up for teammates, and ability to lay the big hits have given Byram leadership roles on teams at every level, including for 2020 WJC Team Canada when regular captain Kirby Dach was knocked out of the tournament with injury.
This bit of edge has already shown itself during Byram’s injury-shortened rookie season. Many regular readers of the site will remember fondly a particularly chippy matchup with the Minnesota Wild. During the matchup, Byram would lay a series of heavy hits, including a beautiful reverse check on Nick Bjugstad that would set the tone for Colorado in a critical victory in last year’s condensed schedule.
On offense and defense, Byram looks to have all the makings of a first-pair defender for the next decade-plus.
Path to Colorado
A highly regarded prospect, Byram was the consensus top defender in his draft class and widely believed to be targeted by Colorado throughout the draft process. In his draft season, Byram was immense for the Giants. The defender put up 71 points (26 goals) in 67 games, then added another 26 in 22 playoff games as Vancouver would take eventual champion, Prince Albert, to game seven in the finals. Byram would lead all scorers in that playoff run (first defender ever to do so in WHL history). Byram was named to the Western Conference first team at season’s end as well as the league’s top prospect award.
The next season would see Byram hold his own in Avalanche training camp but be sent back to Vancouver for another season of development. Byram got off to a slow start offensively but still managed to eclipse the point per game mark (52 points in 50 games), despite missing part of the season for the World Junior’s tournament. A weakened Giants team would fail to make the playoffs, but Byram improved significantly on the defensive end and took on a bigger workload with the depleted Vancouver team. The 2020 WJC Team Canada saw Byram win gold with a strong squad, but the defender saw a far bigger role in the 2021 version of the team. While the injury-plagued 2021 team didn’t capture gold glory like the prior season, Byram was outstanding throughout. Not only was he a focal point on and off the ice for Team Canada, but his game was also strong enough that he was recognized as an All-Star for his performance at the tournament.
The strong tournament showing would give Byram the boost he needed to make his NHL debut. Through 19 games the young defender only scored 2 points but showed a game that played on the NHL level and marks the 20-year-old as a potential superstar to pair with Makar - a terrifying prospect for the rest of the NHL.
Byram is an elite skating defender with good size, a great shot, high hockey IQ (especially on the offensive end), and off-the-charts leadership traits. The son of Shawn Byram, a career AHL player with a 5 game cup of coffee in the NHL, Bowen has a wall of accolades and trophies from a decorated juniors career.
Skating has always been Byram’s eye-catching trait. With exceptional burst, change of direction, and top-end speed, the young defender has the ability to jump up on the attack and get back to cover his own end. This combined with great vision and anticipation leads to Byram recovering a lot of pucks and creating instant offense with crisp, well-anticipated passes to streaking forwards.
In regards to his passing, Byram displays superb comfort with the puck, unleashing a wide array of passes from the short, simple tape-to-tape breakout pass to long stretch passes that cut open opposing defenses. Byram’s passing ability is nearly as highly regarded as his skating ability. These two traits, combined with his offensive ability are why many scouts are enamored with Byram’s offensive ability, projecting big powerplay points in his future (although that will be limited for him, playing with Cale Makar).
If there is one aspect of Byram’s game that draws criticism, it is in his own zone. As with most young, gifted defenders, Byram can get caught admiring his own work from time to time or too deep in the offensive zone without full regard to whether or not he has defensive cover. This was a big problem in his draft season that showed great improvement throughout the 2019-2020 Vancouver season as well as the 2021 World Juniors tournament. There were some of these mishaps during Byram’s 19 games run with Colorado, but he has shown a willingness to work on the defensive half of his game and this should show improvement with ice-time and a steady defensive partner.
Overall, Byram is a supremely gifted, future top-pair defender. Combining him with Makar gives Colorado an insanely bright future at the top of their depth chart. While he may never be a point-per-game guy on a team with Makar running the power play, Byram likely develops into an all-star level defender. There are some concerns with defensive lapses, these should dissipate as Byram ages and the elite offensive ceiling should shine through even if the lapses don’t fully go away with age.
Byram should see his first full NHL season (barring injury). While he will likely get eased in as a second or third pair defender to start the season, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Byram and Makar paired up down the stretch next season. If healthy, Byram brings another dynamic skater and a little bit of size to the Avalanche defense corps. While he showed he could play on the NHL level last season, it will be up to Byram to protect himself on the ice to stay healthy for the long season, because the Avalanche will be relying on Byram to help fulfill the team’s Stanley Cup potential this season and for many more to come.
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