The Stanley Cup playoffs are where players put themselves on the map.
Every once in a while, we see a rookie making major contributions to their squad, helping push towards a deep run. Colorado defenseman Bowen Byram has been a shot in the arm from the back end for one of the league's top teams, showing just why he was so highly rated while coming up the ranks.
The rich get richer.
Byram’s career has been plagued with concussion issues, suffering multiple head injuries over the last few seasons. The young blueliner even contemplated retirement in the summer because of the post-concussion issues after playing just 19 games as a rookie. Throw in COVID-19 and vertigo that he was dealing with last season and Byram didn’t know what he was going to do next.
But Byram and the Avalanche coaching staff stuck with the course, and he began to establish himself as a regular in the lineup of the powerhouse Avalanche squad before too long. He was one of the top rookie point-getters in the league with eight points in his first 11 games, but an unintentional elbow from Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat in November put Byram right back where he was in the summer -- concussed and questioning his NHL future.
Byram returned shortly after playing in a few more games before stepping away after a January 10 game against Seattle because of the issues that he continued to deal with from the concussions.
His triumphant return came in April after a two-game conditioning stint with the Colorado Eagles of the AHL. Byram played with multiple partners in a variety of situations in an 11-game stint late in the year to acclimate him back to the NHL game in preparation for the playoffs. The young blueliner recorded five assists in his return, seemingly becoming more comfortable with each passing shift.
Now nine games into his first Stanley Cup playoff run, Byram has been excelling in his role. Leading all defensemen in the playoffs in even-strength Corsi-for percentage, a metric used to track shot-share, with a very nice 69.01 percent He also ranks within the top-eight amongst defenders in goals-for percentage (78.67 percent), expected goals-for percentage (63.41 percent) and goals-for per 60 minutes (4.72). Maybe more impressively, he leads all Colorado defenders in each category except goals-for-per-60, where he trails Cale Makar by just 0.08.
It’s not just the numbers that look good though -- Byram has found his flair again. Using his skating and mobility on the ice to push play up ice and generate offensive zone time, Byram is a threat every time he jumps on the ice. His five points, all assists, in the nine playoff games are second behind only Seth Jarvis in Carolina who is playing top-six minutes with the Hurricanes' best players.
Byram’s passing ability in all three zones, be it on the breakout or in the offensive zone threading the needle for a scoring chance, has been a problem for opponents. The young blueliner’s mobility has shown its strength, particularly against opponents bottom of the lineup players as they match their best players up against the likes of the unicorn that is Cale Makar.
Byram’s defensive game has been improving as well. Ranked 15th in goals-against per 60 among rearguards, no player still in the running has a higher goals-for percentage. Byram has evolved into a reliable two-way blueliner that generates a tonne of offense when he is on the ice in these playoffs.
The Avalanche have the luxury of throwing out Makar, Devon Toews, and prior to his injury, Samuel Girard for big chunks of the game. Having a dynamic presence that is improving day by day like Byram coming in and playing 15-18 minutes a night on most occasions is a massive advantage for the Avs.
Byram has become a secret weapon for the Avs. If he can maintain his health, the Avs blueline could be frightening for years to come and drive the juggernaut towards a few deep playoff runs.
In case you missed it, the rich get richer.