Having signed a professional contract just prior to this season’s training camp, Drayson Bowman
was quite disappointed upon being sent back to Spokane of the Western Hockey League.
The Hurricanes wouldn’t have it any other way.
Bowman, the team’s third-round pick in 2007 who just turned 20 in March, returned to junior hockey with the intent of proving that he belongs in the NHL. With 47 goals in 60 regular season games (good for fourth in the WHL), three more while representing the United States at the World Junior Championship and two WHL Player of the Week awards, he may be doing just that.
His determined demeanor has been a great sign for the Hurricanes, who were hoping that his release from camp would be a motivating factor, not a discouraging one, as he attempts to lead his team to a second consecutive Memorial Cup as champions of the entire Canadian Hockey Lea
“He’s gone right in and at this point appears to be a man on a mission in junior,” said Jason Karmanos, the Hurricanes’ vice president and assistant general manager. “He’s got a chip on his shoulder in a good way. He’s confident in his ability, and then he goes out and shows you why. He went back to junior with the right attitude and took his game to another level.”
Before last year, no Spokane player had posted a 40-goal season in over 10 years. Bowman has now done it in back-to-back seasons, demonstrating his gifted touch around the opposition’s net. With those numbers, there’s little doubt that he’s the best natural goal scorer currently in the Hurricanes’ system.
“He knows how to put the puck in the net and how to make himself available to get the puck,” said Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes’ director of amateur scouting. “It’s tough to find people that score goals in significant numbers today. A 20-goal scorer in the NHL today is a pretty productive number, and hopefully he’s a guy that we can project to do more than that down the road.”
Bowman’s goal-scoring success this season doesn’t come as a shock given his quick release, finishing touch and similar numbers from last year. Where his game has improved significantly in 2008-09 is on the defensive end, as he is now also regarded as one of the more well-rounded players in the team’s stable of young prospects. Bowman posted a +34 plus/minus rating in the regular season to rank among the WHL’s top 20.
”I think his game has evolved and grown,” said MacDonald. “He’s probably a more complete player than he was coming into training camp this year. Lots of guys have speed, skill and can skate, but their ability to understand the game and react to situations isn’t as well-refined and developed as it is with him.”
In juniors, defensive responsibility isn’t something always found in the most gifted offensive players who can compensate in other areas. Bowman’s advancements in that area speak well both for his commitment to becoming a better player and his ability to eventually adapt to the professional game.
“At that level, they really don’t have to [play defense], to tell you the truth,” said Karmanos. “The talented players at the junior level can get away with cheating, as hockey people refer to it, but he doesn’t cheat. He knows where he needs to be both offensively and defensively, which is good because at this level you can’t be a one-dimensional guy.”
Bowman has also shown some toughness, as he broke the 100 penalty minute mark for the first time in his WHL career this season and is the only Hurricanes prospect playing at the amateur level to top that mark. That doesn’t mean that he runs around looking for contact, but rather that he is able to stand up for himself as a player often targeted by the opposition.
“There’s a little nastiness there,” said MacDonald. “That’s good, because there’s some push-back in his game. You don’t mind seeing that, because you have to let people know that you’re not going to be abused and you’re not going to be intimidated by the opposition.”
Bowman and his Chiefs team are doing well in defense of their championship, as they are currently tied at two games apiece with the Vancouver Giants, the Western Conference’s number one seed, in the second round of the playoffs. In nine postseason games, Bowman has 12 points (7g, 5a) to lead his team and rank in the league’s top 10 in scoring.
Had his season ended sooner and the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate in Albany’s season ended later, Bowman could have made his pro debut at the end of this season. As it stands, he’ll advance one way or another to start next season, whether it’s with the Hurricanes or their minor league affiliate.
“This summer is particularly important for him,” said Karmanos. “As he comes to camp next year, he’s clearly looking to make the team and make that next step.”
Once he climbs the ranks, the Hurricanes think he has a chance to be even more productive when surrounded by other high-caliber performers.
“He’s the kind of player that can flourish and produce with good players, because he’s an intelligent kid who understands,” said MacDonald. “He’s got very well-developed offensive concepts, and guys that score goals don’t do it by accident.
“It’s going to be exciting to see what he can do at the next level. Everything that he’s done to this point in time would indicate that he certainly should be a very productive player in the National Hockey League.”