Avalanche GM Joe Sakic has done everything and some to bolster the Avs’ blueline over the past few years. He drafted Cale Makar, acquired Sam Girard and traded for AHL-depth-guy-turned-top-pair in Ryan Graves. Then, of course, there’s veteran workhorses like Erik Johnson and Ian Cole solidifying the bottom four. Most recently, Sakic stole Devon Toews away from Long Island to further strengthen an already replete top-six in Denver.Byram
But what about Bowen Byram?
The 2019 fourth-overall selection by Sakic has been waiting on the wings for his chance to crack Colorado’s NHL roster. He’s still young at 19-years-old. He still has time. And given an Avs blueline that’s already bursting at the seams with defensive talent, Sakic and Co. can afford to take their time with rushing Byram into the league.
They waited for Makar — they gave him an extra year in college to continue the maturation process — it was wondrous for his development. Makar captained a UMass team that came within one game of the NCAA Championship. He led all college defensemen in points and was one point shy of leading all collegiate players in points. He won the Hobey Baker as college hockey’s top player. Makar then went on to join the Avalanche as a 21-year-old rookie and won the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year.
The hope is for a similar result with Byram.
Many assumed this past season would be Byram’s final season in the junior leagues, where he’s been playing with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League for the past four years.
Byram has gotten steadily better during his time in Vancouver. He jumped from six goals and 27 points in 60 games in 2017-18 to 26 goals (most of any WHL D-men) and 71 points the following season. This past year, he put up 14 goals and 52 points in 50 games and figured to challenge to break his career-bests had it not been for the COVID-cancellations back in March.
But the one positive for his season’s cancellation was that Bryam was able to spend more time with his NHL teammates. Byram earned a spot in the Edmonton bubble skating with the Black Aces as part of the NHL’s expanded roster program during the 2020 playoffs. Coach Bednar told us back in July that he liked what he had seen from Byram and said he was showing much better during the pre-bubble training camp than he did during the fall camp a year ago.
Still, it seems his place on the depth chart is in question. When injuries decimated the Avs blueline during the postseason, Bednar opted for Conor Timmins and Kevin Connauton as replacements, keeping Byram waiting on the wings. And at least for now, it seems Timmins is the next man up. Bednar and his staff have had nothing but great things to say about Timmins’ development over the past couple years.
For now, barring any trades that would involve an Erik Johnson or Ian Cole, it seems all but written in the stars at this point that Byram will return to the WHL for yet another season. And to just get this out of the way: No, he cannot play with the Colorado Eagles in the American Hockey League.
Quick history lesson…In 1979, when the NHL lowered the draft-eligible age from 20 to 18, an agreement was made with the Canadian Hockey League (the umbrellas of juniors leagues that is the WHL — where Byram plays — the QMJHL and the OHL) players drafted by the NHL but didn’t make the NHL team out of training camp had to be returned to their respective CHL team that holds their rights. Basically, if Byram doesn’t make the 23-man roster, his rights are owned by the Vancouver Giants and he’s forced to return there until he’s 20 and his rights are relinquished. Byram won’t be 20 until June of next year.
The problem with Byram returning to the WHL is that, well, some seem to think he’s overstayed his welcome, so to speak. By most accounts, he’s a man amongst boys in the Western Hockey League, routinely making his competition look silly. Playing against older competition in the American League would be beneficial, but as we know, that’s not an avenue he’s allowed to take.
The Devon Toews trade was more or less a silent agreement made by Sakic and Byram that the latter won’t be making the team next year. There’s just not any room with the stacked defense Sakic has built. It also appears Byram will also have to hop in line behind Conor Timmins on the Avs depth chart.
Is Byram wasting his time in the WHL? Are the Avs wasting his? Rumors swirled around Byram possibly looking toward Sweden to play. Could that be a better option for his development, given the older, stronger competition he’d be pitted against?
The 2021 WHL season is currently set to begin January 8. That’ll be roughly 10 months since Byram has played meaningful hockey.
The Avs can certainly afford to take their time with developing Byram…but at what point is the development happening too slowly?