Byram top defensive prospect in NHL draft; long shot to land with Wings

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Buffalo, N.Y. — Bowen Byram is considered the best defenseman prospect in this NHL Entry Draft.

But wherever Byram lands among the top 5 teams — or top 6 if he somehow falls to the Red Wings — there’s a sense Byram will likely need one more season of grooming in junior hockey.

Defenseman Bowen Byram had 26 goals and 45 assists in 71 games for the Western Hockey League Vancouver Giants.

Byram doesn’t feel the same way, though, speaking Friday at the NHL Scouting Combine.

Byram feels he can step into the NHL next training camp, after a rigorous summer of training (and especially weightlifting), and help an NHL team in October.

“I’m a confident player, I’m confident in my abilities,” said Byram, who doesn't turn age 18 until June 13. “I think I can play next year. Obviously, I’ve got a long way to go in the offseason strength-wise. I have to make some adjustments to my game to be able to play there.”

“But I think I’m ready.”

On many draft boards, once after the top two of forwards Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, Byram is considered the third best prospect in this draft.

Craig Button, the TSN draft analyst, has Bowen currently going No. 3 to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The hope of Byram possibly dropping to the Wings at No. 6 appears to be diminishing  by the day, leading to the June 21 Entry Draft.

“Bowen is a number-one defenseman who controls play in all areas,” Button said. “He’s strong defensively and an excellent skater who excels in transition. He has the vision, poise and puck skills to be a standout offensive player. He and (Adam) Boqvist could be a dynamic pair, perhaps in a similar light to (Chicago defensemen Duncan) Keith and (Brent) Seabrook.”

Byram will desperately need to add strength, which should come naturally. He’s a slender 6-foot, 193-pounds, is a left-hand shot, and has elite skating ability.

Byram met with 11 teams this week — the Wings expected to be among them — and doesn’t have a preference which organization drafts him.

“I’m here at the combine to enjoy the experience and meet some new people I haven’t had a chance to meet,” Byram said. “In terms of interviews, I just wanted to be myself and show the character I have and the person I am.”

When you think of modern day defensemen, Byram is the perfect prototype.

A prolific skater with the ability to break out of his defensive zone and possessing great instincts with the puck once Byram enters the offensive zone.

In 71 regular season games, Byram led Western Hockey League defensemen with 26 goals. He took his game to another level in the playoffs, leading all players with 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists) in 22 games.

“That’s a strong suit in my game, breaking the puck out, seeing plays and making plays at either blue line,” Byram said. “I seem to be able to make plays under pressure there. It’s something I’ll continue to work on for sure.”

Byram is strong offensively than he is defensively at this point, although his skating ability and willingness to play physically make him more than adequate defensively.

"I don’t think he’s truly tapped into how good offensively he can be despite his great numbers," wrote Corey Pronman, The Athletic's draft analyst. "I’ve watched him in practice manipulate the puck at an elite level. While he makes plenty of skilled plays, I think his individual creativity has another level than he’s shown. Defensively, he’s solid with good gaps, awareness and compete level, plus some physical edge; but it’s how often the team has the puck when he’s on the ice that makes him so good."

Byram was scheduled to conclude the combine Saturday with the seven fitness physical exams and testing.

"With the testing, I enjoy that stuff and like competing with the other guys so I'm sure it'll be a good time," Byram said. "Most guys here are in good shape, so it'll be good."

Twitter: @tkulfan