Bowen Byram may be a rookie with the Colorado Avalanche, but he already knows that Erik Johnson likes to joke around.
So, when Johnson told him Byram that he is going to make his NHL debut tonight when the Avalanche takes on the Los Angeles Kings, he had to confirm that the veteran was telling the truth.
"E.J. told me [my number] was on the board there, so I didn't know if he was kidding or not, but when I realized I was going in, [I was] just really excited," said Byram. "It's been a long time coming, I mean I have been dreaming of this for a long time. It's definitely exciting and then just all the guys are just saying good luck, whatever it may be. I am just really excited to play."
Byram, the Avs' No. 4 overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft, has played some competitive hockey recently, coming off a silver-medal win earlier this month with Team Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. He was a co-captain on that team and led his country in average ice time (22:59) and all team defensemen with five points (one goal, four assists), while also being named one of the top three players on the squad and earning all-tournament team honors.
Video: Bowen Byram set to make his NHL debut
Making the jump from the under-20 tournament and junior hockey to the National Hockey League won't be easy, but head coach Jared Bednar is going to do his best to try to make it a smooth transition for the 19-year-old.
"We have seven D, so he will probably play a little bit with everybody and we'll just get him going and playing. We'll try to put him in some situations to succeed," said Bednar. "Obviously, we want to see him on the ice a little bit in the offensive zone and playing with the MacKinnon line. That's a tough [L.A.] line to play against because generally its (Anze) Kopitar, (Dustin) Brown and (Alex) Iafallo playing against MacK, but we will try to get him out in some different situations and just see how he does."
Byram has played the previous three-plus seasons with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League, which included leading all league defensemen in goals (26) after producing 71 points in 2018-19. He recorded 52 points (14 goals, 38 assists) in 50 games with the Giants last season.
"I want him to be the best version of himself that he can be. My conversation with him is simple: go play your game, go do all the things that have made you successful to this point, keeping in mind that you have to be able to defend properly and be a trustworthy guy on the defensive side of it," said Bednar. "He's clear on our structure. He's an intelligent player. We have gone through multiple meetings, and he understands the importance of that.
"It's the same as playing for his junior team or Team Canada--you have to be able to defend in order to earn your ice and then you'll get put in situations to succeed on the offensive side of it. We want him to get up in the play, we want all of our D to get up in the play and be part of it. Some guys just have more natural ability to do that and create, but you still have to be able to defend, that's sort of the non-negotiables of our team."
Byram, who will wear No. 4 for the Avs, hasn't had much time to let the news sink in, but he did make sure to reach out to his father and let him know he is set to play in his first NHL game.
"I was in the rink, so I haven't really gotten to be on my phone too much yet. I did text my dad just to tell him that I was playing tonight, so that was the first and only text that I've sent so far, just to my dad," Byram said after morning skate. "He means a lot to me. He's been in this position before so I know he will be really excited for me, so just wanted to get the word to him."
Byram's father, Shawn, made his NHL debut in 1991 with the New York Islanders and played in a total of five games in the league. Though his parents can't be in the arena to cheer their son on, Byram can be sure that they will be cheering him on from their home in Cranbrook, British Columbia.
"He's been great to me throughout my life, and especially my hockey career. I mean he's not really too hard on me, just another voice other than an agent or coach or whatever it may be," Byram said of his dad. "I know I talk to him a lot about the game, a lot about my game, and he's been there to help me throughout since I can remember. It's definitely pretty cool having two guys that have NHL games in the family, I mean hopefully I can surpass my dad in games played. It's super exciting."
ANOTHER NHL FIRST
Goaltender Hunter Miska will also have an NHL first tonight as he will be in between the pipes for the contest, his first career start in the league. He has played in one NHL game before, making his debut in a relief appearance on Nov. 13, 2018 with the Arizona Coyotes at the Detroit Red Wings. He played the final 18:16 of that contest and stopped eight of nine shots.
Usual starter Philipp Grubauer will backup Miska after playing in each of the first three games of the campaign. Pavel Francouz is currently day-to-day with a lower-body injury that he suffered during Monday's practice, but head coach Jared Bednar is confident in Miska.
"I think obviously the injury to Francouz puts [Miska] in this position to get a start, but to be honest with you, he's earned it," said Bednar. "He's been fantastic from day one of training camp and now that's three (games) in a row for Grubi and with the back-to-back coming up in the middle of four-in-six and then no break coming out of it, we feel like now's a good a time as any. I think just watching him practice and talking with (goaltending coach) Jussi (Parkkila) and the work he's been doing and how confident he looks in the net, I am confident as well that he can go out and get the job done for us."
Video: coach Jared Bednar on lineup before Avs at Kings
Miska recorded a 16-6-3 record, 2.48 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in 26 games last season with the American Hockey League's Colorado Eagles. He also joined the Avs in the 2020 playoffs in Edmonton and served as the backup goaltender in the final three contests of the team's second-round series against the Dallas Stars.
"He goes into the Eagles and has a great season, he's arguably their MVP down there last year," Bednar said of Miska. "He had a real good showing for us when he came to the bubble in practices and did a lot of work and improved his game, and then showed up this year confident in training camp. He's had a great camp and a great start to the season so far for us. It's a great story, and it's something that he's had to fight for and earn and I'm sure he's excited about playing here tonight."
View: Avalanche Projected Lineup vs. Kings
"Same kind of message for Miska and for Byram: go be yourselves," Bednar said. "They know our system, they know we expect from them in different situations, but we want them to be themselves and be confident in their games. They are both real good players for us here right now."
SOME GAMES NOTES
Greg Pateryn will make his Avalanche debut after being acquired by the club in a trade with the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday.
Thursday's game is the first of seven back-to-back contests for the Avalanche this season, as the team also faces the Anaheim Ducks on Friday at Honda Center.
Colorado played 12 back-to-back games last season, finishing 9-3-0 in the first contest and 6-5-1 in the second. The Avs swept half (six) of their 12 back-to-backs, matching a franchise record for the most back-to-back sweeps (1985-86 and 2000-01).