While the names of the top prospects throughout North America are already well known, there are dependable future professionals that will emerge from the middle and late rounds at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. And one of those could very well be defenseman Collin Bowman.
When the native of Littleton, Colorado took to the ice in game one of the Western Hockey League finale against the Calgary Hitmen, the Kelowna Rockets rearguard became part of a unique family story. It was just one year ago that Drayson Bowman (CAR) led the Spokane Chiefs to a WHL title and then a Memorial Cup championship.
"It’s a lot of fun for us," Collin smiled when asked about the success enjoyed by his older brother last season. "I remember watching from home last year and I followed it pretty closely, and it was kind of fun to learn by watching Drayson. It’s pretty exciting for us to have back-to-back opportunities to win a WHL championship."
While Collin continues to toil in the WHL during his NHL draft eligible season, Drayson is keeping busy with the Carolina Hurricanes as they battle the Boston Bruins in the second round of the NHL playoffs. The brothers can be assured their folks are watching all the action.
"They try to get out and watch us play," Collin said before game four of the WHL final in Kelowna. "For sure the next step in my brother’s career is very exciting. But hey, sometimes I wonder if our parents ever get a little bored at home without us there. We know they’re enjoying watching us progress."
For Collin, the deep playoff run this season is providing heightened exposure as he plays a huge role in the Rockets late-season success. In fact, an argument could be made that the 6’2, 192-pounder has perhaps been over-used this season.
"It’s really amazing to think about where we are now, especially with three 17-year-olds on defense as regulars," said Rockets assistant coach Jeff Finlay. "To be honest, it is something we would like to try to manage, but we’re in the situation we’re in. Those guys play a lot of minutes."
The Rockets graduated Luke Schenn (TOR) and have relied this season on a blueline corps that includes Myers, 20-year-old Tysen Dowzak (NYR), Tyson Barrie (2009), rookie Aaron Borejko and forward-turned-defenseman Brandon McMillan (ANA).
"It’s a credit to them and their maturity," Finlay said. "I know Bruce (Hamilton, Rockets President and General Manager) tried to get a veteran defenseman at the trade deadline, but it didn’t happen. So, these guys have been forced to play.
"Hey, they get tired. We saw that with Tyler Myers (BUF) at the start of the year when he played a ton of minutes because we needed that from him. When these guys get tired, they make mistakes. But really, for these guys to be doing what they’re doing for us is just tremendous."
Bowman, who is ranked No. 131 overall by ISS, and No. 147 among North American skaters by Central Scouting, admits to being somewhat ecstatic to have the opportunity to play an important role right now.
"It’s been a good opportunity for me and an exciting place to be right now," Bowman said. "For me, playing big minutes and being a guy who is dependable on the back end, I suppose I’m happy nothing happened at the trade deadline because I’ve been able to play and prove to the coaches that I can play those heavy minutes."
Finlay is definitive in his view that Bowman is learning quickly in his second full season in the WHL.
"I think Collin’s strengths as a player are his hockey sense," Finlay said. "He knows his limitations and competes very, very hard. He’s just a real solid defensive defenseman, but at the same time he moves the puck well because he sees the ice so well.
"The knock might be that he’s maybe not the most beautiful of skaters right now, but he knows how to get by out there and is a really solid defensive defenseman."
Finlay also says that Bowman is a conscientious worker and is devoted to improving his skating. The Rockets have access to David Roy, a highly-regarded skating coach who has had an enormous impact on a number of players who have played in Kelowna. And the reality is that physically, Bowman likely has some growing to do.
"David has worked specifically with Collin this season," Finlay explained. "Collin is very good at working on his own. He’s done things in the past through power skating and then has taken those drills and worked through them on his own.
"He’s a hard-working guy, very motivated. There isn’t a lot that you have to tell him to do. He continually works on things on his own and I think a lot of improvement will also come as his strength increases. He hasn’t really filled out yet at 17 years old. So, even that extra leg strength will help him quite a bit."
In time, Finlay believes Bowman will be given the opportunity to display his offensive skills. In fact, he has seen power-play minutes at various times during the season.
"Collin sees the ice well." Finlay said. "When you’re playing the power play, that’s all about being able to see what’s available and then making those good passes. He was put into a bigger role for us this year offensively at times and when he had to, he stepped up and did a great job for us. In the future, we’ll look to rely on him more and more as guys graduate.
"But I think that from the standpoint as a prospect, he’s not going to be a guy that will run a power play in the NHL. He’ll be relied upon to be a stay-at-home, shut-down, defensive defenseman."
"I’m just a steady defenseman," Bowman said. "I rely on my positioning and try to use my hockey smarts to survive in the defensive zone and that’s my main job. I have to shut down the other team’s top guys. Right now I’m really working hard on improving my foot speed and my play in the corners when I have to move the puck up ice. It’s important to limit the amount of time and space we give the other team.
"My role right now is pretty much a defensive one, so I’m not relied on to create a lot of offense. But maybe in the future that will change. I mean sure, I’d like to get it going a bit more on the offensive side."
The Bowman brothers are just a pair of many U.S.-born players who have journeyed north to Canada to build their hockey resumes. The league itself has made a concerted commitment in recent years to hold identification camps in the western United States. According to Collin, WHL fans can expect more of the same in coming years.
"You know, the quality of the league speaks for itself, he said. "More Americans are finding out that this is a great opportunity, maybe even better than going right to college. For me, the WHL is the highest level of hockey I can play at this age and is the quickest way to get exposure for the professional game. The U.S. born guys are definitely making sure that they explore the opportunity here."