The WHL has gotten a serious talent injection today, as not only was Dylan Cozens sent back to the Lethbridge Hurricanes earlier, but Bowen Byram is on his way too. The Colorado Avalanche have decided to return the fourth-overall pick to the Vancouver Giants for this season, where he’ll jump right into the fray as their home opener is tomorrow night.
Byram, 18, was the unquestioned best defenseman available in this year’s draft and was even challenging for a spot in the top-3 selections for a time thanks to his outstanding junior season. He recorded 71 points in 67 regular season games with the Giants, only to then lead the entire WHL in playoff scoring with 26 points. Named the CHL’s top draft prospect, he eventually fell to the Avalanche where they couldn’t pass on him even with their glut of young defensemen.
It’s hard to find a more exciting young defense prospect around the league (though Colorado has one of the few in Cale Makar), as Byram can seemingly do it all when the puck is on his stick. A dangerous player cutting through the neutral zone, he can also find the tiniest lane from his own end to fire stretch passes to streaking forwards. Though not an imposing physical player, Byram still limits zone entries with a strong stick and actively works along the boards to disrupt cycles. Those are what he’ll need to focus on even more to really excel at the NHL level, a development step that may actually have to wait until he hits professional hockey.
This is the dilemma for teams with such an exciting and dominant junior prospect. The CHL sometimes doesn’t pose the level of competition that they need to work on the weaknesses in their game, since their strengths can overcome almost all of their opponents. Working on those weaknesses will be Byram’s challenge this season given his obvious physical gifts, but he should be in the running for WHL Most Valuable Player and could very easily lead all defenders in points.