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Giants defenceman Bowen Byram looks to build off impressive rookie season

Vancouver Giants defenceman Bowen Byram is in entering just his second Western Hockey League season, but he has been impressing his head coach for years.

Vancouver Giants defenceman Bowen Byram is in entering just his second Western Hockey League season, but he has been impressing his head coach for years.

"One thing I remember is I spent a year with the Kootenay Ice over Christmas time, Bowen and my son got to come and practise with the Ice and (Byram) opened a lot of eyes of the veteran guys," said Giants head coach Michael Dyck, who coached Byram at the bantam triple-A level.

"They couldn't believe he was 14 and doing what he was doing, he's been an elite player a long time."

The Giants will be counting on Byram, now 17 years old, to start turning heads at hockey's top level when the 2018-19 Western Hockey League season opens Friday with eight games.

Selected third overall by the Giants in the 2016 WHL draft, Byram had six goals and 27 points in 60 games in his rookie campaign and already has some scouts thinking he could be a high first-round pick at the 2019 NHL draft. 

"It's an exciting year for me, draft year so I try to keep it to the back of my mind but it's there," said Byram ahead of his team's season opener against the Everett Silvertips.

Byram, six-foot-one and 192 pounds, gets praise from his coach for being a solid skater with great vision. But Dyck says there is enough potential in the Cranbrook, B.C., native to achieve more than being known as one-dimensional player.

"He's able to read and move the puck up the ice and if that's not there he's able to carry it up the ice," said Dyck. "He can create offence on the blue line getting pucks through, finding people going to the net and he's also a competitor that hates to lose."

Byram believes he can be dependable in all situations.

"I think I'm going to be a guy that's maybe relied on as a two-way defender," Byram said. "That's the pressure I put on myself... play well in both ends of the ice and everything will take care of itself."

Byram will have some help along with him on the blue line, with Dylan Plouffe, Kaleb Bulych and Alex Kannok Leipert all back from NHL training camps to start the year.

Dyck says that the team's success will be determined by how well his defencemen come together.

"It's not just Bowen, our defence is our anchor, it's our strength," said Dyck. 

Byram believes that no matter what people in the hockey world think of him now, he knows their minds can change based on how he performs.

"I have to work hard in practice and prove myself in the first couple games," said Byram. "Last year was a good year but I know I can get better at a lot of things, defending, attacking. I'm just focused on rounding out my game."

Dyck, who has served as Vancouver's assistant coach and as a team scout in the past, is entering his first season as Giants head coach. But it won't be his first coaching Byram.

Byram says he first played for Dyck when he was "12 or 13" in summer league, while also skating alongside Dyck's son Carson with the bantam triple-A Lethbridge Golden Hawks.

This season the WHL is aligning itself with the Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with a 68-game regular season, resulting in all three Canadian Hockey League member leagues playing the same number of games. The WHL had a 72-game schedule since the 1975-76 season.

Dyck approves of the new schedule.

"I think it's a good change. It allows for a little more practice time which will help with development, and give them a little bit more time to not only focus on development on the ice but off the ice as well with school."

Kyle Cicerella, The Canadian Press