Produced by the Western Hockey League in partnership with BC Tree Fruits, “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” is a multi-part series highlighting the next generation of WHL stars set to embark on a journey pursuing NHL dreams. “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” can be seen monthly at WHL.ca, featuring a key member of the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft Class. Together, the WHL and BC Tree Fruits are “Growing the Game’s Best Talent.”
In the heart of British Columbia’s Lower Mainland is where Bowen Byram has cultivated his reputation of a top-tier defenceman in recent years.
With the Yale Hockey Academy in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL) and the Vancouver Giants, Byram has all-but assured he’ll be the first defenceman to hear his name called at the 2019 NHL Draft later this month.
He won’t have to go far from his home rink of the Langley Events Centre to hear his name called either, making the hop, skip, and a jump to Rogers Arena, the site of this year’s draft.
But if you want to go to the root of where Byram first connected with hockey and the WHL, you’d have to head over to the other side of the province and his hometown of Cranbrook, B.C. It was there where Byram first discovered the game, attending Kootenay ICE games including an emotional return by Tim Bozon in 2014.
“When I was little, I thought those guys were pretty cool,” Byram said. “They were superstars to me. Playing in the league [now], I just realize that we’re normal people.
“That’s the one thing I take away from when I was little. I don’t quite remember what the hockey was actually like.”
Despite fuzzy memories of the on-ice product from his younger years, Byram is oozing hockey talent now, billed as the second-best skater in North America according to NHL Central Scouting. It’s a honour Byram doesn’t take lightly, but still remains cool under a growing list of expectations for the soon-to-be 18-year-old.
“It’s pretty cool to get recognized like that,” Byram said of his ranking. “It’s been a dream of mine to play in the NHL one day. This is a step in the right direction.
“There’s lots of good players out there, there’s lots of good defencemen out there so I’ve got to keep working hard if I want to stay considered as one of the top ones.”
His father Shawn, a former member of the Regina Pats and Prince Albert Raiders who played professionally around the world, remains a vital source of his hockey knowledge. However, his familiarity with head coach Michael Dyck has also proved beneficial.
From 2014-16, the pair were linked through the Lethbridge Golden Hawks Bantam AAA program where Byram was captain both seasons. With Dyck guiding the club from behind the bench and Byram on the ice, the pair combined for a championship in the Alberta Bantam AAA Hockey League in the 2015-16 campaign. In 2019, the pair came close to recreating the same magic in the 2019 Rogers WHL Championship Series.
“He’s a dynamic player at this level,” Dyck said of Byram. “He skates very well, distributes the puck, he defends very well. He’s become, even at 17, a good leader on our team.
“The goal for Bowen from the outset was whatever he could do to make our team successful and I think that’s been his focal point. He’s such a good two-way guy; we have lots of trust in him.”
Byram led all WHL and Canadian Hockey League defencemen in goals during the regular season. He also became the first-ever defenceman in to lead the WHL Playoffs in scoring for a single season. Through it all, Byram has kept his focus on having fun.
“That’s why we play, because it’s fun,” Byram said. “I like having fun so that’s the person I am.”
Even after being named the recipient of the Sherwin-Williams Top Prospect Award at the 2019 CHL Awards, Byram joked about the increased expectations based on the names that have come before him on the trophy.
“Looking at some of the names, Nolan Patrick, guys like that, guys that are good NHLers now so it maybe adds a little bit of pressure,” Byram said. “All in all, it’s pretty cool just to get that award.”
Now 15 days away from the first day of the 2019 NHL Draft, Byram is set to enter the next part of his hockey career. Ever the calm presence, Byram knows he’s done all he can on and off the ice.
“No matter what I’m ranked, I’ve just got to keep a level head,” Byram said. “Whatever happens, happens.”