The 2021/22 Colorado Avalanche defense has started the season without Devon Toews and with Cale Makar playing below his best due to an injury that kept him out of preseason.
However, one bright spot has been the play from Bowen Byram. Fans got a glimpse of what was to come from a 19-game spell last season before that came to an end early due to injury. This season, Byram has impressed, so much so that he could be starting to play himself onto the Team Canada Olympic roster.
Byram’s Season So Far
The 20-year-old started the season alongside veteran defenseman Erik Johnson, seen as the ideal partner and role model for Byram. However, the struggles of Samuel Girard, combined with the impressive start from Byram — including his first NHL goal — has led him to take up a role on the top defensive pairing, alongside Makar.
The fact that Byram has just created a conversation around him staying with Makar, even when Toews is back, is a sign of just how well he is performing. The pair look to be a match made in heaven, despite being players who both have an offense first mindset. Makar is sure to be off to Beijing in February, will his new D partner join him?
From eight games this season, Byram has one goal and four assists for five points, putting him second behind Makar in points for defenseman. He’s also just one of five Avalanche players to record a positive plus/minus rating, and is second behind Erik Johnson in that category with plus-4 on the season so far. To compare how well Byram has kept the defense together in the early part of the season, Makar is minus-8 and Girard is minus-5.
Statistically, outsiders looking in may see five points and a plus-4 rating and not think too much. However, when you put this into context, and show it at the side of the numbers we have seen from Makar and Girard, all of a sudden you can see the level Byram has been playing at. There is a case to be made that Makar is still warming up after missing preseason, but even with that in mind the start from Byram has been excellent.
The X-Factor and Tournament Experience
One of the big positives that Byram has in his favor is youthful confidence. The Olympics is a one-off event that players get excited about. They want to express themselves, and if you’re building a team with that in mind, Byram is exactly the kind of dynamic player you want on the backend.
Names such as Drew Doughty, Kris Letang and Ryan Ellis all have potential to grab the final spots, but could miss the cut. None of them have the same youthful energy as Byram, and don’t offer the same ability to jump into the play based on what we have seen this season. Assuming this is something that the team values over veteran experience, that could work in Byram’s favor.
Had we been looking at a team building for a regular season, there is certainly a case to be made for someone more experienced to take Byram’s place. However, this is short, fast paced tournament hockey, where things are different, and teams need to set up with that in mind if they want to be successful.
If those in charge of putting the Team Canada roster together was an indication of whether Byram can play in this environment, they just need to look back to his World Junior Championship performance of 2020-21. Although Team Canada was beaten, Byram stood out, captaining the team at times, and finished with five points from seven games and plus-13. If there was a moment during his junior career that showed him to be an above average NHL prospect, that was it.
What Comes Next for Byram?
There is still work to be done, and the next 10 games are likely to cement opinions on Byram, so he needs to continue what he’s done already. Given the Avalanche schedule gives them a favorable November to pick up plenty of wins, the chance is there for him to take.
With Columbus x2, Vancouver x2, San Jose, Seattle, Ottawa, Anaheim, Dallas, and Nashville on the horizon, this is a month where Colorado will be looking to make up ground. They started the season with an even month in October, recording four wins and four defeats.
Whatever happens over the next few games, Byram has greatly enhanced his chances of making the roster compared to when he started the season in October. He may already be lined up to play, there could be more to do, but whatever the outcome, given the level of his play, he has certainly given his all to make it.
Craig Jones is a freelance NHL writer from the UK, covering the Colorado Avalanche. Watching the NHL from afar, Craig has followed the Avs for more than two decades, and wrote about them for almost one. To get the UK perspective of the NHL and everything Colorado, follow Craig on Twitter @craigjones29.