Bowen Byram isn’t exactly sure what the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft is going to bring Thursday morning. One thing he is certain of is the fact he has been anxiously waiting for this day for as long as he can remember.
“I’m really excited, mostly nervous though, but whatever happens will happen,” said the 14-year-old native of Cranbrook Tuesday afternoon over the phone from his billet home in Lethbridge, Alta. “I’ve always wanted to play in the WHL for as long as I can remember. My dad played in the WHL, so that’s led me along that path.”
A defenceman by trade, standing 6-feet tall and weighing in at 163 pounds, Byram grew up in Cranbrook but has spent the previous two seasons playing Bantam AAA hockey across the Alberta-B.C. border, suiting up with the Lethbridge AAA Golden Hawks of the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL).
Over two campaigns in southern Alberta, the East Kootenay product has done nothing short of dominate the play and dictate the pace.
In 2015-16, Byram notched 22 goals and 59 points over 34 games to register as the top-scoring blueliner in the AMBHL.
“He’s everything. He’s a 200-foot player for his team right now and probably moving forward,” said Garnet Kazuik, director of scouting for the Kootenay Ice, when asked to provide a report on Byram in March. “He’s a penalty-kill guy, he’s a power-play guy. He’s very hard to play against. He has good size and one of his biggest assets is he can really shoot the puck. His No. 1 asset is his skating ability. He’s very lateral… He has a great stick and he communicates so well on the ice.”
Byram’s steady play on the back end helped the Golden Hawks to a bronze-medal finish at the 2016 Western Canadian Bantam AAA Championship on the heels of winning the AMBHL.
“Every time I get on the ice, train or anything, I just try to get one per cent better,” Byram said. “Hopefully that helps me reach my goal of one day playing in the WHL.”
While Kazuik kept his cards close to his chest regarding the player the Kootenay Ice will select with the first-overall pick at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft Thursday morning in Calgary (8:30 a.m. MT), there’s no arguing the fact a hometown selection of Byram serves as nothing short of storybook.
The smooth-skating rearguard has been consistently in the conversation when it comes to players projected to go not only in the first round, but in the top-10 or even top-five selections at this year’s bantam draft.
“It’s been pretty good, sometimes intimidating meeting with guys a lot older than me,” Byram said of chatting with scouts in the lead up to this year’s draft. “It’s been good, productive for the most part.”
Western Elite Hockey Prospects ranks Byram as the No. 2 southern Alberta prospect behind only forward Peyton Krebs, who led the AMBHL in scoring with 46 goals and 102 points in 27 games played with the Rocky Mountain Raiders.
As the young Byram mentioned, hockey runs in his bloodlines with father Shawn having suited up for 178 WHL regular season games split between the Regina Pats (1984-85 to 1986-87) and Prince Albert Raiders (1986-87 to 1987-88).
“It’s helped a lot,” Byram said. “He has given me some tips and some tricks that make it easier in the transition from minor hockey.”
Where Byram ends up is a fate still to be determined. The Kootenay Ice will dictate the roll of the draft when they step to the podium at Calgary’s Hotel Arts. After that, the Vancouver Giants slide in with the second-overall pick, following by the Saskatoon Blades, Swift Current Broncos and Medicine Hat Tigers.
Whether he ends up back home in B.C. or slides east of his temporary home in Lethbridge, Bowen will be relieved when Thursday finally comes to pass.
“It’s been a lot of stress on me,” Bowen said. “I’ll just be excited to get the weight off my shoulders once it’s over.”
The 2016 WHL Bantam Draft will be webcast live at new.whl.ca with coverage beginning at 8:30 a.m.