In virtually every list of top prospects for this year’s draft, there’s only one defenseman. But 18-year-old Bowen Byram — who reached that age last Thursday — makes up for that lack of quantity by being one of the highest-quality defensive prospects to be available in the NHL Draft in recent memory.
While playing for the Vancouver Giants last season, Byram torched the WHL. He led all defensemen with 26 goals and was second in the league with 71 points in 67 games, a 1.06 PPG pace that was unmatched in the WHL. Scott Wheeler of The Athletic offered a glowing review of Byram two months ago. Keep in mind Byram did all of these things as a 17-year-old defenseman, which only raises the bar for how impressive his performance was. He was at his best in the playoffs, scoring nine goals with 20 more assists in 22 games, leading the WHL in playoff scoring.
The sharpest tool in Byram’s arsenal is his skating ability, which bodes well, considering the ever-increasing pace of the NHL. In his detailed breakdown of Byram’s abilities for The Athletic, Corey Pronman offered multiple highlights that displayed Byram’s knack for leading a rush up-ice or serving as a one-man zone entry or zone exit whenever needed. Not only does that skating ability serve him well on defense and in transition, Byram can also be a nightmare for opposing defenders because he can skate his way into threatening positions that other blue-liners cannot find.
Of course, a teenager who attempts to leap to the NHL will have growing pains on the defensive side of the ice. But Byram plays with an active stick and isn’t afraid to thwart opposing rushes at the blue line by stepping up. His skating ability is also crucial here, as Byram can skate himself out of trouble in a way that his peers cannot.
Despite the fact that he’s just turned 18, Byram could very well be in the starting lineup for the Blackhawks in four months if they elect to draft him at No. 3. That’s because of two factors: the Blackhawks defense, as presently constructed, isn’t good and Byram is that impressive of a prospect. He’s the type of defenseman the NHL seems to be craving, possessing top-end skating ability that helps him flourish in all three zones. He’d be a perfect fit on the blue line in Chicago or anywhere that he ends up.
Age: 18 (June 13, 2001)
Hometown: Cranbrook, British Columbia, Canada
Weight: 194 pounds
Team: Vancouver Giants
NHL Central Scouting (NHL): No. 2 North American skater
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): No. 4
Corey Pronman (The Athletic): No. 4
Cam Robinson (Dobber Prospects): No. 6
Craig Button (TSN): No. 3
Bob McKenzie (TSN): No. 6
Byram projects to be a top-pairing defenseman, reliable enough in his own zone with the knack for finding space in the offensive zone thanks to his elite skating ability.
Expected first season: 2019-20
Expected entry position: second/third-pairing defenseman
Expected potential position: top-pairing defenseman