A trio of draft-eligible players from the Canadian Hockey League got an up-close look at life in the pros this week.
Attending Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues, Kirby Dach of the Saskatoon Blades, Dylan Cozens of the Lethbridge Hurricanes, and Bowen Byram of the Vancouver Giants had a chance to see what life will be like once they enter the big leagues.
All three are top prospects ahead of the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver, with Byram leading the way as the No. 2 ranked North American skater by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau, though Dach and Cozens trail closely behind, coming in at third and fifth, respectively.
Of course, one of the biggest challenges the prospects will face as they move into the pro ranks is the demand to play with full-grown players, an aspect Dach picked up immediately while watching the Bruins and Blues share the ice.
“It’s kind of eye-opening, just how big and strong those guys are,” Dach told Nick Cotsonika of NHL.com. “We’re still boys. We’ve got to grow into our bodies a little bit more to be able to play at that level. You kind of know what you’re going to up against before you’re starting.”
Away from the ice, the players also got to meet with NHL superstars like Brad Marchand (Halifax Mooseheads) and Patrice Bergeron (Acadie-Bathurst Titan) who imparted their wisdom and wished them the best of luck before the big day in June.
“You guys are in great positions so I’m sure there is really no need to worry about too much, so just soak everything in,” Bergeron said. “It goes fast.”
In all, the chance to take in the Stanley Cup Final was the latest experience for the players, who earlier this week had the chance to woo NHL clubs in taking part in the Scouting Combine. There, players were put to the test both in the fitness evaluation portion and in individual interviews with a handful of teams.
“Meeting with every team’s scouts and GMs and being in a room alone is a little intimidating, but you get comfortable after that first one, you settle in,” Cozens told NHL.com. “The one I was most nervous was Detroit. (General manager) Steve Yzerman was in there, and seeing him and shaking his hand, that was awesome.”
The Red Wings were one of 12 teams that Cozens met with as part of a hectic Saturday schedule. It was another opportunity to impress after he finished in the top 10 of six separate fitness evaluations.
“It was good to have the testing done,” Cozens said. “Everyone was kind of dreading the testing a little bit, just having the whole week leading up to it. In the back of your mind you’re always thinking about that. Now that we’re done it, it’s a good feeling.”
As for Byram, a highlight was meeting Coach’s Corner host Don Cherry as part of Hockey Night in Canada’s broadcast of the Stanley Cup Final. And while Byram told Cherry his favourite player to watch is Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews, it is in fact another member of the Blue and White after whom he models his game.
That’s fellow defenceman Morgan Rielly (Moose Jaw Warriors), who impressed this season with a career-high 72 points, though that’s not unfamiliar territory for the budding blue-liner in Byram.
This season, Byram finished second in scoring on the Giants with an incredible 71 points, counting 26 goals and 45 assists, in just 67 appearances, only to crank up that performance in the postseason. There, Byram led the WHL with 26 points as he helped Vancouver advance to the Ed Chynoweth Cup Final.
“I like watching (Rielly). He plays on a really good team. Good on both sides of the puck. Kills penalties. Plays the power play. That’s where I want to be, hopefully,” Byram told Sportsnet’s Luke Fox. “Definitely when he’s on the ice, I like watching him, but I usually get watching some of the other guys, too. But I try to watch him. A multi-tool player. Hopefully something I can grow into.”
Byram has a chance to follow in Rielly’s footsteps beginning on the draft floor. Rielly went fifth overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, while projections show that Byram could top that this year. But in the end, for Byram, and all the draft-eligible players, it’s about the opportunity to play in the pro ranks and live out a childhood dream.
“I’ve done all I can,” Byram said. “I’ve had my meetings, I played all year, so now it’s just sitting back and enjoying the experience.”
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