The Bowen Byram debate: Could the Blackhawks take another defenseman at No. 3?


The Blackhawks have been consistent in their draft approach over the years: Don't prioritize an organizational need or a player who may be the most NHL ready. Select the prospect who has the highest ceiling and best chance at making an impact in the long term, no matter where they're at in their development.

Which brings us to a topic that is heating up around Chicago: Should the Blackhawks consider taking a defenseman at No. 3? And by that we mean standout 17-year-old Bowen Byram.

We know what you’re thinking: Another defenseman? After using the past three first-rounders (Henri Jokiharju, Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin) and a second-rounder (Ian Mitchell) on defensemen? Really?

Yes, really.

In his latest NHL mock draft, TSN’s Director of Scouting Craig Button didn't waver on Byram going to the Blackhawks at No. 3. Button, who joined the Hawks Talk Podcast in April, called Byram as close to a No. 1 defenseman as there is and raved about his ability to make an impact on the game in every facet.

That's tempting for the Blackhawks because, while there's certainly a surplus of young defensemen in the organization, they could knock out two birds with one stone in drafting the 6-foot-1, 192-pound Byram because he might be the best available player while also filling an immediate NHL need who could become their next franchise-changing two-way defenseman.

"I'll tell you this: He's the best defenseman in the draft," Button said. "When I talk about Bowen, no question in my mind he's a top pair defenseman and very well could be, should be and probably will project him as a No. 1. I don't project very many defensemen as clear-cut No. 1s and Bowen Byram is clearly moving in that direction. He controls the game in every single regard: defensively, neutral zone, offense, with the puck, without the puck, skating, shooting.

"Scott Niedermayer had 26 goals in his draft year; that's how many Bowen Byram had. I am not suggesting he is Scott Niedermayer, but his ability to command the game in so many different ways and to play big minutes, effortlessly cause his skating is so good and his mind is so free and he's so smart and so in tune to what's going on, and a big-time competitor, Bowen Byram to me could fit the needs right in. And I don't know where you find No. 1 defensemen. I don't know where you find them. We can talk about drafting defensemen and using their picks on the defensemen, I don't think any of the guys they've drafted are No. 1 defenseman. Bowen Byram, to me, I guess I gotta take a stand here: I think he can be a No. 1 defenseman."

Byram ranked third among WHL defensemen this season with 71 points (26 goals, 45 assists) in 67 games, and is tied for the league lead in playoff scoring with 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) in 21 games for the Vancouver Giants. He does it all and is doing so in high leverage situations, too.

If the Blackhawks are convinced Byram is separating himself as the top player available at No. 3, you take him and figure out the rest later. Having a collection of young, high-end defensemen has never been a bad thing.

It doesn’t sound like anything is off the table for the Blackhawks and their track record proves that.

"We talk about it, but everything is on the board at 3," Blackhawks Vice President of Amateur Scouting Mark Kelley said on the Hawks Talk Podcast. "If you look back to the past two drafts, I don't think we went in there [2017] saying, 'We're gonna draft a defenseman with our first pick and a defenseman with our second pick,' and certainly that happened with Henri and then with Ian.

"And then last year going in, Stan and I talked and we said ideally we'd like to come out of the first round with a forward and a defenseman, but as it plays out and the hand is dealt, you have to play the hand that's there. And really we're looking for the best available player regardless of position, the one that could have the biggest impact for us."

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