There were several interesting storylines with respect to Colorado Avalanche defenseman Bowen Byram and the recently concluded first-round playoff series with the Nashville Predators. First, the fact that Byram was a key component in the 2017 trade return for Matt Duchene in the form of a 2019 fourth overall pick from the Ottawa Senators came full circle as the two faced off against each other in this match was one interesting wrinkle.
The second factor is that it was Byram’s first pair of games at Bridgestone Arena. He was expected to suit up and play in Nashville on January 11th when that day he suddenly left the team indefinitely for personal reasons to deal with his ongoing post-concussion issues. After three months away, Byram made his return to the game and there must have been some thoughts and emotions returning to the place where his path to recovery began.
Finally, the Nashville series was the first taste of postseason action Byram has experienced in his young career after missing out on both the 2020 and 2021 playoffs and unfortunately witnessing the Avalanche’s disappointing eliminations from the press box. This year, Byram was deemed both seasoned enough and ready to fully contribute to what hopes to be a long playoff run for the squad.
It wasn’t a given that Byram would make the postseason opening lineup but it’s fair to say he had the inside track with his talent and ability plus the month he spent getting his game back in order helped him prepare for the playoffs. After his return to the ice, the rookie defenseman played in two AHL conditioning stint games and 12 of the 13 final regular-season contests for the Avalanche. He scored six points in those games with an average of 17:39 time on ice highlighted by a 24:09 outing at the Seattle Kraken.
Head coach Jared Bednar has given his young blueliner praise and has stated he’s liked what he’s seen from Byram thus far in the playoffs both with involvement in the offense and bringing the physicality defensively. Bednar also recently reflected on the journey Byram has taken to get back with the team.
“To be able to get himself going and get healthy, get the help he needed and take the time off that he needed to get back and playing at a high level, it’s not easy to do especially after two years of frustration and heartbreak. So I’m just proud of him and hopefully he can keep moving forward here now, stay healthy and continue to be a factor in helping us win hockey games.”
Byram earned his first postseason point with an assist on Andre Burakovsky’s opening goal in Game 4. However, Byram is still looking for his first tally both in the playoffs and since returning but has potted five in the regular season. It hasn’t been without his share of chances and one will eventually find the back of the net for him, probably in a pivotal moment down the line.
While Byram has been locked into a more limited role than he’s used to matching with Erik Johnson on the third pair, the two have been very effective together and one of the better duos in the league as evidenced by the nice 69% share of expected goals as a pairing. In fact, Byram leads the team in Corsi For at 65.14% and was on the ice in the four-game Nashville series with five goals for and only one against the Avalanche.
For his part, EJ has performed well himself producing thee assists in four games. He has enjoyed a season of full health and his first taste of playoff action since 2000 after missing almost all of last season. EJ spoke the other day about how he’s having fun playing on a pair with Byram.
“I love it. He’s kinda got an old school soul, he’s happy go lucky. He’s so young but he’s got that throwback style to him how he’s off the ice. I think if he played all year he’d be in the running for rookie of the year, I really do. He’s so talented, skates so well. Just a lot of fun to be around, I really have enjoyed it so far. I’m picking things up from his game that I think I can help my game with.”
Byram returned the compliments the next day discussing his pairing with Erik Johnson and how he has been both a friend and mentor to him. The Avalanche have an incredible competitive advantage with the defense they’ve built and it extends beyond Cale Makar and Devon Toews all the way to this duo. Byram is full of surprises with his aggressive nature and has the ability to be a game-changer. Next up, the St. Louis Blues will present a bigger challenge but as always Byram is ready to go.