23 November 2017 0 Comments Posted By : STEVE EWEN

Byram buzz begins for 2019 NHL Draft, with Vancouver rookie D-man slotted for early selection

“His skating and willingess to carry the puck is what makes him elite. His skating is just so effortless. He’s such an efficient player.”

The double-take reactions prompted by moves by Vancouver Giants rookie defenceman Bowen Byram have been plenty this season, and likely began in one of the first team meetings of the campaign.

The players were asked at the time to write down their goals for this season. Byram’s included wanting to gain the respect of other players, both on the Giants roster and from around the league.

It’s certainly not your standard refrain at this level, and particularly not often from someone like a Byram, who came into the campaign with hype after being the third overall pick in the 2016 WHL bantam draft and even receiving power-play time last season with the Giants as an under-age call-up.

As Vancouver veteran winger Ty Ronning put it: “It’s such a cool answer … that really opened my eyes.”

“I just thought if you’re a good player on and off the ice, other players will develop some respect for you, whether they are older or younger than you,” said Byram, a 6-foot, 188-pound left-hand shot from Cranbrook. “And that’s in your own locker room, and even players from other teams.”

It’s safe to say that it’s happening.

The smooth-skating, puck-moving Byram has been one of the three or four best Giants so far this season. You don’t often say such things about rookies, and rookie defencemen in particular.

He is among the leaders on the team in ice time, and 16-year-old defencemen in the WHL usually have their match-ups carefully monitored by their coaches.

Giants fans haven’t seen something quite like this maybe since David Musil’s first year in 2009-10, or possibly Jon Blum’s in 2005-06, or even Mark Fistric’s in 2002-03.

When you’re talking about the Giants, that’s good company.

Byram was also part of the Canada Red team that finished second at the World Under-17 Challenge in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek earlier this month, and was later named to the event’s all-star team.

An executive from a rival WHL club who watched the event said that Byram was “exceptionally good” and pegged him as being “in the top percentage” of all players in Canada for his age group.

Coming off of that, Craig Button at TSN last week put out an early ranking for the 2019 NHL Draft, and had Byram at No. 2, behind only American centre Jack Hughes. The Giants have had four NHL first rounders in franchise history, with Evander Kane the earliest thanks to going fourth overall to the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009.

“I’m not thinking about it. I try to keep that stuff out of my mind,” Byram said of the hoopla. “It can distract you from how you want to play or how you can play.”

Byram has been strong enough in his own zone, paired with veteran Darian Skeoch, that the Giants are using him on their first-unit penalty kill and late in periods with a lead.

Former Kootenay Ice head coach Luke Pierce was an assistant with Canada Red and says that Giants bench boss Jason McKee and associate coach Dean Chynoweth — who oversees the defencemen for Vancouver — will give Byram “self confidence to continue to improve that part of his game.”

That said, it’s his ability to jump into the play that will always be the first thing you notice about Byram, Pierce maintains.

He reminds you at times of Tyson Barrie from his Kelowna Rockets days with how gets deep into opposing territory.

Going into a Wednesday visit to the Langley Events Centre by the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Byram was the top-scoring rookie defenceman in the league, with 10 points, including one goal, in 18 games. For comparison, Blum had 24 points, including seven goals, in 61 games in his 16-year-old year, and he is fifth all-time in the franchise in points, with 204, including 49 goals, in 248 games.

“His skating and willingess to carry the puck is what makes him elite,” Pierce said of Byram. “His skating is just so effortless. He’s such an efficient player.”

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