Bowen Byram, Vancouver Giants (WHL)
Position: Left Defense
Age on Draft Day: 18.03 Years Old
Height/Weight: 6’0, 194 pounds
2018-2019 Stats: 67 GP, 26 G, 45 A, 80 PIM
Other Draft Rankings
NHL Central Scouting (North America only): 2nd
ISS Hockey: 3rd
Craig Button: 5th
Bob McKenzie: 6th
Byram was teammates with Rangers’ prospect Ty Ronning last season, and so I have seen him play pretty frequently. Even as a 16-year-old, he stood out immediately.
Without a doubt, Byram’s offensive abilities are what separates him from the rest of the pack. He is always looking to spring forward. For defensemen, this typically means joining rushes as a trailing player but Byram frequently takes it a step further by becoming a pseudo-winger on transition plays, joining the rush as the third or even second man in.
Within the offensive zone, he is constantly moving to a low position, even going behind the net at times. Not one for traditional defensive positioning, Byram roams to wherever he thinks he can best impact the play.
Byram is able to get away with this because he possesses the physical gifts to put out fires that he might create. His footwork is tremendous and his straight-line speed is high-end. As such, he is able to quickly get back into defensive positioning if possession changes.
Both at even strength and on the power play, Byram demands the puck. He is patient in possession and his crossovers are fluid. Thus, he is very good at changing angles of attack and exploiting vulnerabilities as they open up within the defensive structure.
He likes to activate in the offensive zone and push towards the circles. He’s constantly a threat when the puck is the below the goal-line because he capitalizes on receiving low-to-high passes and putting them on net.
His passing is strong, but more than anything, Byram is a goal scorer. The numbers prove this quite strikingly. He led all WHL defensemen in goals this year by a wide margin, scoring seven more than the next highest blueliner. In fact, Byram’s offensive numbers are as good as the WHL has seen for some time.
Only three defensemen in the last 30 WHL seasons have scored more goals in a draft season than Byram did this year. All three were top-pairing defensemen in their primes. Darryl Sydor was a two-time all-star, while Scott Niedermayer is, of course, a Hall-of-Famer.
Again, Byram is hardly pinned to the blue line. Most of his scoring comes either on transition plays or from receiving a pass around the circles (or lower).
Of course, there are a few knocks on his game. For me, the biggest one is his situational defending. As previously noted, his skating is great, so he can clean up messes with recovery efforts on the backcheck. He defends the blue line pretty well. But when it comes to battling for possession and pursuing puck carriers he has a propensity for being soft.
It’s not an issue of size. At 6-feet tall and a stout 194 pounds, he certainly has enough on his frame to do the job. In fact, when he wants to, he can put guys on the floor.
However, despite his thick frame, he tends to get pokecheck-happy. This tends to create problems. For one, he ends up taking a lot of stick penalties. Secondly, puck carriers have an easier time getting past him than they should. There were multiple times in my viewings where Byram had an opportunity to put a puck carrier in a problematic situation, but he failed to engage and let that guy off the hook. Defense is different than it was a few decades ago, and brawn has taken a backseat. Still, Byram needs to learn to defend with his body in addition to using his stick and footwork.
He is also sometimes way too cavalier in situations that require urgency. For instance, when there’s a loose puck in the slot that needs to be dealt with and safely punted away.
Another problem Byram runs into is trying to do too much and getting into trouble. Against WHL teenagers he mostly gets away with going rogue and taking risks. As he turns pro, though, where the play is faster and teams are more structured, he’s going to get punished with more frequency.
If these deficiencies are the result of an attitude problem, then it’s a major red flag. However, I am more inclined to believe that Byram means well but is an inconsistent 17-year-old who needs coaching and experience. This is where a team’s scouting staff becomes integral to the process because data and video won’t provide any answers. They need to get in the interview room with Byram. They need to speak to his coaches.
Reasonably speaking, this is all very good news. I do not mean to impress upon readers the idea that his flaws are particularly concerning. It may take him a few years to figure it out, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which he doesn’t outgrow those shortcomings so long as he puts the work in. His few issues are common for offensive defensemen of his age and he will probably adjust with repetitions and development. A good coaching staff and some learning through mistakes will educate Byram on how to correct these problems. What can’t be taught and developed so easily is his skating ability, puck poise, and his knack for scoring.
A new crop of NHL defensemen is transforming the way we think about the position. Quinn Hughes, Rasmus Dahlin, Miro Heiskanen, and Cale Makar have expunged the rigidity that has plagued the position and are proving that an extemporaneous, risk-tolerant philosophy works for players who have the requisite skillsets. Bowen Byram is yet another player in that mold. He is, by far, the best defenseman available in the 2019 NHL Draft and a surefire top-10 pick. With some development, he has the potential to become a first-pairing defenseman who quarterbacks the power play and consistently ranks among the top scoring defensemen in the NHL.
What Others Have Said
“The Byram of the last half of the season and into the playoffs was one of the best players in junior hockey.”
- Scott Wheeler, The Athletic
“He’s able to make plays under pressure and make plays in traffic in his own zone and in the neutral zone. In the offensive end, he’s able to create offense so he can create plays blue line-to-goal line whether he has the puck or not.”
- Vancouver Giants Head Coach Michael Dyck, via NHL.com