At the end of the day, Bowen Byram decided the Western Hockey League route was the one for him after all.
Friday afternoon, the Vancouver Giants announced they had signed the Cranbrook native and third-overall selection from the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft to a standard player agreement.
“I’m really excited here right now,” Byram told VancouverGiants.com on Friday. “It was pretty surreal getting flown out here [Thursday] night. I’m really excited to get things going with the Giants and for it to be for real now.
“I’ve been looking forward to this my whole life, basically my whole hockey career and I’m just excited to get it going and being a WHL player, hopefully, in a couple years.”
There was a period of time where it wasn’t totally clear as to whether or not Byram was going to settle on the WHL route for the next step in his hockey career.
On May 12, Bowen’s father Shawn — himself a veteran of 178 WHL regular season games — conveyed to The Townsman that the family was still considering all of its options when it came to determining the best choice for Bowen, both in life and in hockey.
But little more than a month later, Bowen Byram signed on the dotted line with the Giants, which in many ways, comes as no surprise, considering the excitement that could be heard from the 15-year-old defenceman on draft day.
“It’s an obvious honour,” Byram told The Townsman on May 5 after being drafted by the Giants. “It’s a great organization. I was pretty happy when I saw my name come up there.”
In Byram, the Giants get a stud defenceman who, by all accounts, can play at both ends of the rink, bringing an enviable combination of size, skill and skating ability to the ice.
“The Vancouver Giants are honoured to have Bowen and his family joining our organization,” said Glen Hanlon, general manager of the Giants, in a team release. “In signing Bowen, we add an impactful number-one defenceman, which is something that all teams look for. Bowen plays an uptempo game and will bring speed and skill to our roster.”
Standing 6-feet tall and weighing in at 163 pounds, Byram dominated the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL) in 2015-16, registering 22 goals and 59 points in 34 games with the Lethbridge Golden Hawks, placing him as the highest-scoring defenceman in the league.
Byram also helped the Golden Hawks put forth a bronze-medal performance at the 2016 Western Canadian Bantam AAA Championship after claiming the AMBHL crown.
“He’s going to be a team leader for us,” Jason Ripplinger, director of player personnel with the Vancouver Giants, told The Townsman at the bantam draft. “As the years go on, he’s going to be able to run our power play. We’re looking at him as a Joe Ricketts-Type of player, not comparing the two, but playing the 30 to 35 minutes a game. When you can get a guy on the ice like that playing against the best players, it gives you a good chance to win.”
The Giants are in desperate need of that type of impact player after finishing the 2015-16 WHL campaign second to last and missing out on the playoffs with a record of 23-40-5-4.
Byram is expected to attend Giants camp this fall, but is only eligible to play five WHL games as a 15-year-old this coming season. He can suit up for the Giants on a full-time basis as early as the 2017-18 season.
Of the top three players selected at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, Byram was the last to sign with his respective club.
Kirby Dach, second-overall pick of the Saskatoon Blades, put pen to paper with his new club on May 10.
Peyton Krebs, the first-overall selection at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, inked his standard player agreement with the Kootenay Ice on June 1.