CALGARY — The Vancouver Giants got their man, selecting Cranbrook native Bowen Byram third overall at the 27th annual WHL Bantam Draft, Thursday morning at Hotel Arts in Calgary.
“It’s an obvious honour,” Byram said Thursday afternoon. “It’s a great organization. I was pretty happy when I saw my name come up there.”
Byram heard his name called while sitting with his mother and father, a particularly special moment for the 14-year-old as he said it had been months since he had seen his mom, Stacey, while living in Lethbridge in order to play Bantam AAA.
The Giants originally held the second-overall selection, but traded down with the Saskatoon Blades before choosing the 6-foot, 163-pound defenceman at third overall.
“In the draft [class] this year, I didn’t see a guy that could carry the puck up ice as quick as [Byram] can and who plays hard on both ends of the ice,” said Jason Ripplinger, director of player personnel for the Vancouver Giants, Thursday morning during a break following the first round of the draft. “He makes a great first pass. He’s a very smart player and he’s a player you can build around in order to win.”
The Giants sent the second-overall pick, 50th-overall pick (third round) and 147th-overall pick (seventh round) to the Blades in exchange for the third-overall pick, 36th-overall pick (second round), 113th overall pick (sixth round) and a seventh-round selection in 2017.
The deal gave Vancouver four selections in the top-40 of the draft, with goaltender Trent Miner being another key pick at 20th overall.
Meanwhile, the Blades grabbed forward Kirby Dach with the second-overall selection.
“Saskatoon really wanted the Dach kid,” Ripplinger said. “We were willing to risk it. We’re fortunate it worked out.
“When you’ve got multiple picks like we did, getting [goaltender Trent] Miner, to do that and get a player you really want can make an impact on your hockey club in the future.”
Byram dominated the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL) in 2015-16, stacking up 22 goals and 37 assists for 59 points in 34 games played with the Lethbridge Golden Hawks, ranking him as the top-scoring blueliner in the AMBHL.
“It would be best if my mentality doesn’t change,” Byram said. “I’ve just got to keep working hard. Just because I’ve been drafted, doesn’t mean I’m on the team at all. I’ve just got to keep working hard and hopefully I’ll earn myself a spot on the team.”
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.
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.
“His IQ of the game is the most important thing,” Ripplinger said. “He’s just so smart, makes those good plays and can find guys that are maybe covered, but for some reason he still gets the puck to that player.
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).
“He’s going to be a team leader for us,” Ripplinger said of Byram. “As the years go on, he’s going to be able to run our power play. We’re looking at him as a Joe Hicketts-type of player, not comparing the two, but playing the 30 to 35 minutes a game. When you can get a guy on the ice like that playing against the best players, it gives you a good chance to win.”
The Giants are in desperate need of an elite-calibre player like Byram after finishing the 2015-16 campaign second last in the WHL with a record of 23-40-5-4.
“I just want to be a good defenceman, a good, two-way defender,” Byram said. “Hopefully I’ll put up some points and keep a good plus-minus throughout the year.
“I’m sure [the Giants] will be getting stronger. They had a good three or four years at the draft, especially today, they had a good draft and last year they had a real good draft. I’m really confident in the organization and the team we’ll have going ahead.”