ENGLEWOOD — Crazy few weeks for Avalanche star draft pick Bo Byram, eh?
Young man is living the June of dreams. British Columbia native turned 18. Drafted by Joe Sakic, a B.C. Sports Hall of Famer. Hung with the fam when Sakic called his name — in Vancouver! — as the No. 4 overall pick in the NHL draft.
"You heard the crowd when (Sakic) was on the stage," Byram tells me. "He's an icon."
Yep, crazy few weeks. Crazy enough that when Byram, considered the top defenseman in the draft, arrived here in Colorado to meet his future Avalanche teammates, he forgot something.
Like a roofer misplacing his staple gun or a fishing guide his trusty waders, Byram goofed. But guess what? The Avs loved it — not that Bo forgets things, but how he responded to forgetting things.
“Guy gets here, forgets his skates. But he doesn't freak out. He’s like, 'No big deal. I'll get another pair and let's go,’” Avs director of amateur scouting Alan Hepple says with a booming laugh. “And he’s walking around like he’s been here five years. He’s comfortable. He’s confident.”
“Doesn’t seem like a kid, does he?” Hepple says.
Not in the slightest. And as small and inconsequential as it seems, those are the kinds of attributes the Avs are attempting to identify when they bank their future on teenagers. When the Avs lined up seven draft picks for a press conference Tuesday at Pepsi Center, the baby-faced collective could be mistaken for a high school graduation. Same wide eyes. Same pimples. Same age.
Then they handled questions in front of a herd of TV cameras like old pros. Hey, I have no idea if the young fellas can play. Most are years away from lacing 'em up at The Can, anyway. Plus, the Avs should be in win-now mode. They watched the St. Louis Blues raise the Stanley Cup and should be thinking, "Those guys? Really? Shoot, we can do that."
But what always strikes me about NHL draft classes is the youth — and how a scouting department figures out what teenagers are going to become when it's teenagers we’re talking about here. No offense, guys, but we were all 17 once. It's not always pretty.
It’s one thing to draft NFL players. They’ve attended college for three years, minimum, so the book’s out on most of them. Hockey’s way different. How do the Avs separate the prospects obsessed with hockey from the kids hooked on Fortnight?
“I sit in a room with 10 guys. And I’ve got guys that don’t like a player. We’ve got different opinions on their skating and things like that,” says Hepple, a delightful man in his 17th year with the Avalanche. “It’s a lot of background stuff. We know a lot of things about these kids’ families, (if) they’ve been in trouble. ... They haven’t been, thank God.”
“The draft is a unique thing because we’re drafting 17-year-olds. I think the NFL is a little older. We’re drafting 17-year-old kids,” he says. “Hopefully you get the right one.”
The scouting process for the 2019 draft began last August at a tournament in Edmonton, Alberta. The interviews arguably carry more weight than the workouts at the draft combine, because, as any guidance counselor would say, figuring out teenagers is no simple task. The Avs spoke with 75 players at the combine and another 50 outside the combine, Hepple says.
As the NHL season wore on, the Avs got a pretty good idea Ottawa’s first-round pick — the one the Avs obtained from the Matt Duchene trade — probably would end up in the top five. The top five is a fun place to draft when it’s not a reflection of your win-loss record.
“(We focused) maybe a little heavier on the top-end guys,” Hepple says.
And the Avs' scouting department observes teenage prospects with the same comparison game that us amateur puckheads do, Hepple says: “Is that Cale Makar? Is that Mikko Rantanen?”
“Yeah, we feel pressure. We’ve had some success at the top with the Mikkos and Cales and Tyson Josts,” says Hepple, the 169th pick of the 1982 draft. “We’re trying to work on the later-round guys and trying to hit on those. ... In this salary cap world, you need the guys from the later rounds to play.”
Byram has the best shot to break camp with the Avs roster. “It’s up to Bo, how good his summer is,” Hepple says, and whether the Avs decide the D-man can help a Stanley Cup contender at 18.
The first day of developmental camp Wednesday featured a juicy development. Skating in a maroon jersey — not the no-contact kind — was Conor Timmins, the 2017 second-rounder whose season ended early due to a concussion. Timmins skated with centerman Alex Newhook, a first-rounder last week. One chat with Newhook and you'll want to have a cold one with his family.
"Any time the 'Newfies' take over it gets a bit crazy," says Newhook, who's going to play hockey for Boston College, just like his sister, Abby.
Speaking of, Bowen Byram, the star draftee, was born on June 13, 2001. That's four days after Sakic, who called Byram's name at the draft, scored a power-play goal in a Game 7 win in the Stanley Cup finals. You and I remember that. Bo Byram doesn't. He wasn't born yet.
Life comes at you fast. Crazy.