VANCOUVER — Bowen Byram’s bantam coach knew almost immediately the defenceman would wind up as a first-round NHL pick.
Dan Marr, the league’s director of central scouting and resident prospect guru, had a similar feeling when he first saw the player in action.
But ask Byram, and he wasn’t as sure until recently.
“It’s a dream growing up for everybody to one day play in the NHL,” said the 18-year-old. ”I’ve always been confident in myself and my abilities.
“It just set in lately that maybe it’s a possibility for me.”
That possibility is set to become a reality Friday.
U.S. National Team Development Program centre Jack Hughes and Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko are basically assured of being the first two names off the NHL draft board. The order they get called? That’s up to the New Jersey Devils, owners of the top pick.
The New York Rangers will no doubt take whichever star forward remains, but from No. 3 on it’s anyone’s guess in the top half of the first round.
Byram could very well be next off the list, and the first Canadian to pull on a crisp new NHL jersey at Rogers Arena
“It used to be high-character, low-maintenance,” Marr said of what teams look for in a player. ”He’s high-character, zero-maintenance.
“He checks all the boxes.”
The Vancouver Giants defenceman led all Western Hockey League blue-liners with 26 goals to go along with 45 assists in 67 games this season.
“I’ve improved a lot over the last year,” said Byram, who added 26 points in 22 playoff outings and is the second-ranked North American skater heading into the draft behind Hughes. ”I’ve grown a lot as a person as well.
“I’m a hard-working guy — in the gym, on the ice — that’s kind of the thing I pride myself on.”
Brad Bowen coached and billeted Byram at Yale Hockey Academy in Abbotsford, B.C., when he was 15. He’d like to take credit for Byram’s development, but said his internal engine deserves most of the plaudits.
“My wife taught him more than I did,” the coach said with a laugh. “He learned how to do his own laundry and cook for himself and all that stuff.”
Bowen said the Cranbrook, B.C., native’s practice habits were “through the roof” that season.
“He’s a special hockey player,” said the coach. “He was cerebral. He was smarter than any player on the ice. We would be doing normal breakouts and he would do things no other player would unless you forced them.
“He would go off the ice and immediately be ready to go back on. His lungs were unbelievable.”
The Chicago Blackhawks own the third pick in the NHL draft followed by the Colorado Avalanche at No. 4.
Marr said whichever team calls the six-foot-one, 195-pound Byram to the stage in Vancouver will leave happy.
“He just gets it,” Marr said. ”Whatever the situation, whatever needs to be done — whether it’s go up and tell an opponent if you want to get to a teammate you’ve got to go through him or when they need a goal, he’s a guy that can generate an offensive rush, generate chances.
“He can defend responsibly with some attitude and some physical play if need be. He just has this knack … he delivers. He’s a natural leader.”
In a draft heavy on talent up front, and especially down the middle, Byram stands above the rest of the blue-liners available.
“He’s the new-age defenceman,” Colorado director of amateur scouting Alan Hepple said. ”He skates, he moves the puck. His puck management is unbelievable, his sense for the game. He’s got that little bite in his game, that grit that I think is important.
“He’s not going to be stopped. This kid is really good.”
Bowen, the bantam coach, said Byram’s off-ice demeanour is just as impressive — something he saw lots of during their time together at the rink and at home.
“He’s got a great personality,” Bowen said. ”He wasn’t the type of kid that sat playing Xbox. He fit into our family very well. My wife and I would be watching TV in our bedroom and he’d just jump up on our bed and sit between us.
“He was a funny kid.”
Byram, who counts Morgan Rielly and Drew Doughty as his favourite NHLers, isn’t short on confidence, believing he can jump into the NHL next season.
Sure, there’s things to work on — like the not-so-small task of defending against men instead of teenagers — but he doesn’t see that as an impediment.
“I’ve worked really hard to put myself in a good position heading into the draft,” Byram said. ”(Now) it’s just sit back and wait to see how things play out.”
He shouldn’t have to wait long Friday.