For two straight postseasons, Bowen Byram watched, but couldn’t help the Colorado Avalanche.
In the bubble, he was just a 19 year old along for the ride, practicing with the team, but knowing he wasn’t really going to get in there. The next season, concussion issues unfortunately ended his season, and he watched the Avalanche get eliminated by the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round.
At the start of the 2022 playoffs, he was finally healthy and ready to show what he could do. It turns out, he might have been exactly what the team was missing just the year before.
In 20 playoff games, Byram recorded nine assists, but it wasn’t just the offense that stood out. As the playoffs went on, his role on the team kept increasing. When Sam Girard was injured in game three of the St. Louis series, the team needed him to take on a bigger role.
He went from playing 13-15 minutes a night to 17. And then 19. Eventually, it got to the point where he was not just a guy playing behind Cale Makar and Devon Toews, but a guy on equal footing with them. In game six against Tampa Bay, he led the team in ice time at even strength, helping the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup.
All postseason long, the team was dominant with Byram on the ice. The Avalanche controlled an absurd 60.42% of the shot attempts when Byram was out there. That was second only to Makar, but only by a measly .01%. But the numbers beyond that are even more ridiculous. With Byram on the ice, the Avalanche outscored their opponents 23-9, giving him a 71.88 GF%. Only Erik Johnson came close to him at 65.22%, with no one else on the defense coming within 16% of Byram.
That’s the type of difference maker he was last postseason. And that’s why he is, once again, the X-factor for the Avalanche. Having a top pairing of Toews and Makar is hard enough to stop, but no team can match a talent like Byram on their second pair.
The young defenseman dealt with injuries again in his third season, but luckily, none of them were concussion related. When he was healthy, he showed exactly why he was a top five pick just a few years back. His 10 goals in 42 games put him at nearly a 20 goal pace over an entire season. It’s even more impressive that 80% of those goals came at even strength.
Now heading into his second postseason in the NHL as impact player, he looks to build off what he started last Spring, but in the end, it’s still just hockey.
“Obviously, you feel like you have a bit more experience playing in the playoffs and whatnot, but not much changes,” Byram said. “In terms of your game, you’re just going out there and competing and trying to help the team win.”
With Makar and Josh Manson both set to return in game one, the Avalanche will have all their right handed shots available to use if they choose to. That hasn’t been the case most of the last month. When Manson re-injured himself in early March, the Avalanche tried something new, putting Byram on the right side. He was up and down, and there was a good reason for that. As it turns out, it was something completely new to him.
“I haven’t really played much of the right side at all, ever, to be honest,” Byram told me.
But the young defenseman was eager to try something new, and add another skill to his repertoire.
“It’s just something I’ve been trying to work on and get used to,” he said. “It’s a little difficult in some areas of the ice, but some of the areas of the ice, I think it’s a little bit easier as well. It’s definitely a bit of an adjustment, but a good tool to have to be able to play both sides. Just trying to manage as best as I can.”
That second wave of attack will be key for the Avalanche against a stout defensive team like the Kraken. They don’t give up much, but the easiest way to confuse a defense is by getting your defense involved. That’s where Byram and the rest of the defense may be the difference for Colorado.
“I think they do a really good job of playing as a five-man unit,” Byram said of Seattle. “They don’t really have any superstars, but they’re all really solid, good players. I think we’re excited for the challenge. To get past them, we’re going to have to have our best foot forward.”
The matchup with Seattle will be fresh, and Byram acknowledged their building will be loud and fun to play in, but the series has some perks for him. As a British Columbia native, it’s about as close to home as it can get without being in British Columbia. So when the series shifts to Seattle, don’t be surprised if you see a few more Byram jerseys in the crowd than you might expect.
“Worked out well for me, anyways,” he joked.