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Weakness becomes force as Avalanche build brilliant prospect depth

Colorado’s D-man prospect pool was empty not long ago. After drafting Byram, now it’s overflowing.

The Colorado Avalanche knew they had a reputation, and it wasn’t a good one. For years, the organization struggled to develop NHL-caliber defensemen, with top-50 draft picks such as Duncan Siemens, Cameron Gaunce, Chris Bigras and Stefan Elliott failing to make an impact.

Fast-forward and the team is swimming in promising young blueliners. “We got beat up a few years ago because we didn’t have that, so we’ve rectified that problem,” said Alan Hepple, the Avs’ director of amateur scouting. “Probably to the point it’s going to be really good. It’s going to be fun.”

With Cale Makar as the marquee name, Samuel Girard coming in via trade and top-100 prospect Conor Timmins in the system, the Avs were already off to a good start, and then they snagged Bowen Byram fourth overall in the 2019 draft.

The top blueliner in the class, Byram led the WHL playoffs in scoring with 26 points in 22 games as his Vancouver Giants went all the way to the league final before falling to the Prince Albert Raiders. Byram was also more than a point-per-gamer from the back end in the regular season, so yeah, he can drive the offense.

The dream scenario would be to have the lefty Byram and right-shot Makar on a dashing pair in the near-future (or at least manning the points on the power play together).

Hailing from Cranbrook, B.C., Byram may never be the best defenseman ever to come out of that town, but the bar is pretty high. In 1991, the New Jersey Devils selected a Cranbrook kid named Scott Niedermayer third overall. The Niedermayers and Byrams know each other, and for Colorado’s newest defensive gem, it’s wild to think of the parallel. “It’s pretty unbelievable to be mentioned in the same sentence as him,” Byram said. “He was such an incredible player and person. He’s definitely somebody I look up to.”

Another key figure in Byram’s life has been Giants coach Michael Dyck. The two met on a spring hockey team Byram played for, and at age 12, Byram moved to Lethbridge, Alta., to play for Dyck full-time on the bantam Lethbridge Golden Hawks. Not long after, they reunited when Dyck was hired by the WHL’s Giants. That squad built up during Byram’s tenure, culminating in the run to the final last season and a lot of great lessons. “Whenever you’re on a run like that, there are a lot of highs and lows,” Byram said. “We had an unbelievable group, a really resilient group, so it was a lot of fun. We had tremendous character on that team, and I learned a lot about myself.”

And to think: this is only the beginning for Byram. Must be nice to be the Avs right now.

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