The top defender in the draft, Byram is a silky smooth skater. The WHL leading scorer, as a defenceman, has taken hold of the rankings and pulled himself ahead at every turn. The offensive skillset and defensive potential is what is separating Byram from the rest of the blue-line group.
Name: Bowen Byram
Date of Birth: June 13, 2001
Nationality (Place of Birth): Canadian (Cranbrook, BC, Canada)
The above spider graph, courtesy of Kyle Pereira of Puck77, displays the available data from Will Scouch. As shown in the graph, Byram excels in all areas. The CAT% (both offensive and defensive) are a product of even strength goals for percentage relative to their team. Will Scouch broke it down into offensive and defensive areas and renamed them catalyst percentage. For a more in-depth explanation from the man himself, you can watch the video here. As you can see, the NHL eScore is the highest among defenders in this draft making him most likely to make an NHL impact.
As the only defenceman in this draft that projects as a true top-pairing defender, Byram excels or shows promise in every part of the game. In his own zone, Byram is able to use his excellent skating to close the gap on opposing players and isn’t afraid to close out along the boards. His ability to lay the body without losing sight of the puck and make a play without missing a step is the key to his defensive game. He doesn’t panic under pressure and confidently handles the puck. Makes the smart play in his own zone, often waiting the extra second as a play develops while a forecheck is barring down on him.
Byram is more than capable of winning battles both in the corners and in front of the net. He is strong on the puck and doesn’t get pushed off the puck against bigger forwards. The smooth skating defender is often able to take away passing lanes and prevent defenders in front of the net from making a difference. His strength will need to improve and mature over the next 18 months in order to truly have a chance make an impact on an NHL roster but the foundation of a smart, physical defensive game is there.
His skating is elite. He has the ability to go in any direction at a high rate of speed with efficiency. Able to transition from forward to backward, he is able to keep an opponent to the outside and has an active stick that forces the opposition to keep the puck in an ineffective position, often leading to a loose puck or poke check from Byram. He is able to transition from defence to offence is outstanding, displaying his high-end offensive awareness. With his NHL-ready first few strides and acceleration to his top-speed, Byram is able to change the pace of play and push the puck up the ice as a one-man wrecking machine through the neutral zone. In the video below, Bryam shows off his skating and edge work by changing directions to brush off a defending forward at the blue line before venturing deep into the zone. This draws in defenders and opens a passing lane which Byram takes advantage of without skipping a beat.
Milos Roman opens the scoring after Bowen Byram shakes at the line and makes the cross-crease dish.
Byram up to 27 points in 23 playoff games. pic.twitter.com/pMFPhHv76d
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) May 14, 2019
Tweet courtesy of @Hockey_Robinson
In the offensive zone Byram uses his best tool, his skating, to his advantage. With the ability to run a power play as the quarterback, he is truly able to make a difference on special teams. Constantly gliding up and down the boards and across the blue-line to create an open look for a pass to a high danger area. His slap shot is good but his snap shot is the weapon that generates the best scoring chances. Whether it’s used as he pinches down to the circles or off the rush, he is able to put an heavy, accurate shot on net. He possesses outstanding vision and is able to pass to any area of the ice with efficiency. He is one of the true two-way defenders in this draft class and is high-level at both ends of the ice but his transitional play is what separates Byram from every other defender in this draft. In the video below, Byram shows an ability to read the play as it develops and gets to open ice to receive a pass that he was able to immediately fire into the back of the net.
#WHL: Gutsy 4-3 win in Game 5 by Vancouver to stay alive. Bowen Byram scored this goal and beat back pressure to initiate the breakout for another tally. Really entertaining game and it was a tense final 20 but the Giants won a lot of battles, kept the pressure on with the lead. pic.twitter.com/ArGSyzELaX
— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) May 11, 2019
Tweet courtest of @TheDraftAnalyst
Preparing to take a leadership role on the Vancouver Giants of the WHL this season, the young blue-liner had a good summer prior to his draft-eligible season. He came into the Gretzky-Hlinka tournament in the summer as one of Canada’s best defenders. He provided Canada with a good two-way game with four points (1G, 3A) in five games on route to the gold medal. He showed all of his abilities in the tournament that made him the rookie of the year in the WHL as a 16-year-old in 2017-18. The promise that was flashed a ton in his rookie season was affirmed against the best of the best in his age group, setting the stage for an outstanding draft year.
Video courtesy of Hockey Prospect Center Youtube channel
Tearing up the WHL
The reigning rookie of the year began the season looking to build on a solid freshman year in 2017-18 where he had 27 points in 60 games. The silky skater began the season strong as he put up 14 points in the first 18 games, looking like a true number-one defenceman early into his sophomore campaign. His creativity offensively began to flourish and his confidence grew throughout the season.
The maturity of his game began to show as he learned to adapt his habits on both ends of the ice. Defensively he began to engage physically, showing his strength after a good summer of growth. Offensively he began to use his shot much more both on the rush and at the point. He used his lateral quickness to open shooting lanes and his phenomenal edge work allows him to pivot deeper into the zone at a moments notice or transition to defence and cut the angle off to the puck carrier.
Video courtesy of Hockey Prospect Center Youtube channel
His regular season was outstanding as he was named a first-team Western Conference All-star for the 2018-19 season. His impressive 71 points in 67 games was good for third in the WHL among all defenders and his 26 goals outpaced every blue-liner in the league. The only two rear guards to put up higher offensive totals were 19-year-old Josh Brook and 20-year-old Dawson Davidson, both with 75 points. As a 17-year-old, he was more than able to play an effective defensive game, engaging physically without taking himself out of plays like many young defenders do.
Leading the WHL playoffs in scoring
Whatever we thought of Byram’s game before the playoffs, the young D-man was an absolute stud for the Vancouver Giants run to the WHL final. Leading the entire playoffs in scoring from the backend with 26 points. Byram lead all players in scoring by edging Prince Albert Raiders over-ager Brett Leason by one point. The next closest defenceman was 10 points back, 20-year-old teammate Dylan Plouffe.
Bowen Byram was an absolute workhorse for Vancouver. He was a monster on both ends of the ice, making plays defensively and offensively. His game took a step that drove the Cranbrook, British Columbia native straight up draft boards. His play during the postseason inspired his top-pair defender projections, something no other defender in this class has.
What the Detractors Say
The most prominent complaints in Byram’s game are the excess minute that the Giants played him and the fact that he has sometimes been caught out of position. The later happened because he trusts himself to take risks due to his ability to get back into position with his elite skating ability. He will have to develop a better sense for when to jump into the rush at the next level but mistakes like this tend to work themselves out as a young defender matures. As for being overplayed and looking worn out once in a while, he took on the large role from the Giants coaching staff and developed into a leader during the season. He may have been playing a few too many minutes during the season but the point totals and skillset allowed him to do so while not looking too far out of his depth.
Bowen Byram will be taken…
In the top-five. The last time a defender wasn’t selected in the top-five was the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. The first blue-liner selected that year was Ryan Suter at 7th overall by the Nashville Predators. The likelyhood that a team such as the Los Angeles Kings pass up on Byram is slim unless they fall in love with a forward. If for some reason Byram isn’t selected by the Kings, the Detroit Red Wings will be salivating as they run over other teams draft tables to get to the podium. Byram has the highest ceiling of all the defenders in this draft and he’s completely separated himself from all other rearguards in the class.