The Blackhawks have said they’ll select the best available player third overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. That player could very well be defenseman, Bowen Byram, who is projected by many analysts to be taken third overall. If that’s the case, how well would Byram fit in the organization?
The ‘Hawks have taken three defensemen in the first round of the draft over the past two years: Henri Jokiharju, Nicolas Beaudin and Adam Boqvist.
Without even considering second-round picks such as Ian Mitchell and Chad Krys, other prospects, current roster defensemen or possible free agent targets, the Blackhawks hope to have already selected half of the future defense corps in the first round of the draft over the last two years.
If the Blackhawks select Bowen Byram this year, that number goes up to four, rounding out two of three defensive pairings. In other words, there will likely be some odd men out over the coming years.
This isn’t a huge problem, but it isn’t ideal neither, considering longtime fixtures on the blue line Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have four and five years left on their deals, respectively, with considerable salary cap hits.
The aforementioned Mitchell looks like he could be the real deal as well, so let’s pencil him in for now. Based on the top prospects, the theoretical drafting of Byram and the biggest contracts on the books, the future of the Blackhawks’ defense corps could end up looking something like this:
Byram – Boqvist
Beaudin – Jokiharju
Keith – Mitchell
If this comes to fruition, or close to it, Connor Murphy, Erik Gustafsson, Carl Dahlstrom, Slater Koekkoek and Gustav Forsling will all need to be jettisoned; hopefully, for assets along the way.
Not to mention, that would have Seabrook and his massive cap hit as the seventh defenseman.
To see the Blackhawks’ organizational depth for yourself, check out CapFriendly’s overview here.
Despite the relatively strong pipeline of defensemen, some people think the organization lacks someone that can effectively replace the aging Keith as the ‘Hawks top d-man.
Craig Button brought up the topic on the ‘Hawks Talk Podcast’ on the NBC Sports Chicago website.
"“[Byram’s] the best defenseman in the draft,” Button said. “There’s no question in my mind he’s a top pair defenseman. He very well could be, and I’ll probably project him as a number one defenseman. I don’t project many defensemen as clear cut number ones, but [Byram] is moving in that direction. I don’t know where you find number one defensemen. I don’t think any of the guys [the Blackhawks] drafted are number one defensemen.”"
Drafting Byram would likely end that narrative, as Button eluded to. To get to the point, even though the Blackhawks could end up having a plethora of organizational depth at defense, drafting Byram could still fill a need.
Bowen Byram has all of the tools to find success in Jeremy Colliton’s man-to-man defensive system.
Byram’s effortless skating will help him from losing his man. His hockey IQ will help him close off plays and force turnovers. His excellent passing will convert his forced turnovers into offense and his willingness to join the rush will help that offense become odd-man rushes. Theoretically, Byram looks like a perfect fit in Colliton’s defensive system.
On the offensive side, Byram won’t disappoint either. Watching highlights of Byram will show countless clips of him walking the blue line, searching for his best options and executing at a high level. He also looks like a natural power-play quarterback and a good option to carry the puck into the zone.
The latter is especially important; maybe we won’t all have to watch in frustration as the ‘Hawks push it back to Kane for an entry every single time, even after the opponent’s penalty kill has clearly made adjustments for it.
Once in the zone, Byram is a great outlet at the point and a lethal threat to score. He holds the puck in well at the point, reads when to pinch years beyond his age, and is very comfortable with the puck when under pressure. From there, he finds open passing seams and shooting lanes in order to make plays. If he doesn’t like what he sees, Byram uses his skating to create space or opts to make a safe play down the boards, or to his defensive partner.
If the player that’s supposed to be defending Byram cheats to help elsewhere, you can usually find Byram wide open in the slot ready to score.
Or, you know, he might just do something like this:
In short, the Blackhawks need all of this. Erik Gustafsson brings that type of offense, but not with the sound defense Byram seems to bring.
Bowen Byram would be a great fit with the Blackhawks. Drafting him may mean forcing more defensemen out of the organization in the near future, but doing so would be an instant upgrade. In every other way, Byram is a perfect fit for Chicago to take third overall at the upcoming draft.