Bowen Byram scores on his first shot in ‘dynamic’ debut for Buffalo Sabres



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Bowen Byram didn’t participate in the Colorado Avalanche’s morning skate Wednesday before their game against the Detroit Red Wings because of an illness. The team considered him questionable for the game. Hours later, though, Byram was packing his equipment and leaving the arena because the Avalanche had traded him to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Casey Mittelstadt.

Because of the Sabres’ schedule and Byram feeling under the weather, it was initially unclear when he would debut with his new team. The Sabres were in Toronto to play the Maple Leafs on Wednesday before flying to Nashville to play the Predators on Thursday. The initial thought was to have Byram go right to Buffalo so he could get settled and healthy before making his debut when the Sabres return home to play the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. But Byram nixed that plan, calling coach Don Granato to tell him he wanted to join the team in Nashville and play. Granato loved the energy and put him on the Sabres’ top defensive pairing with Rasmus Dahlin.

Then on Byram’s third shift of the game, he collected a pass from Dahlin, skated toward the net and ripped a wrist shot by Predators goalie Juuse Saros to tie the score. His first shot as a Sabre will always be a memorable one, and his longtime friend Peyton Krebs got an assist on the goal.

Byram wasn’t done. Granato put him on the ice with the Sabres’ top penalty-killing unit and the top power-play unit. Byram finished the game second only to Dahlin in time on ice with 24:58. He played in all situations, looking like the play-driving defenseman the Sabres hoped they’d acquired Wednesday.

“He’s dynamic,” Granato told reporters after the game. “In the peer group with Dahlin. A draft year different but has won a Stanley Cup, a top-five pick. To have him and know he’s gone through incredible experiences already in the league, and keep in mind they’re both around 22.

“You can see those two together are going to be very, very good for us. It’s exciting to have that and know that.”

The Sabres were playing without top center Tage Thompson, who was a late scratch due to an upper-body injury. They were already thin down the middle after trading Mittelstadt. They also got into Nashville after 3 a.m. ET after traffic delayed their arrival at the airport in Toronto. All of that to say, this wasn’t the best version of the Sabres we’ve seen this season, and they were overmatched in a 4-2 loss to the Predators, who have a 10-game point streak and are 9-0-1 in their last 10 games.

That aside, Byram’s first game was a success. He showed off the smooth skating and puck-carrying ability to transition plays quickly from defense to offense. Later in the game, he set up Owen Power for Buffalo’s second goal by making a perfect pass on the rush.

“I think everyone knew coming in he was an elite talent,” Power told reporters.

The Sabres used Byram and Dahlin on the top power-play unit at the same time. He showed a competitive edge on the penalty kill, too. He had three shots on goal, two individual scoring chances and a blocked shot.

“He works his brains out and is not afraid to get dirty in the corners,” Krebs said.

Byram had some lapses in the defensive zone, but that’s expected of a player who is making the transition to a new defensive system. His willingness to engage physically in the corners and in front of the net was a welcome sight. In an otherwise lackluster game from the Sabres, Byram was a jolt of energy.

Byram expressed relief after the game to get the first goal out of the way on his first shot. His focus now turns to getting back to Buffalo and trying to figure out what his life will look like in his new home. The Sabres have an off day Friday before playing the Oilers on Saturday afternoon. That Byram is friends with Krebs, Dylan Cozens, Jack Quinn and Erik Johnson from previous teams in his career should help his adjustment. But he still needs to get his belongings from Colorado, find a place to live and try to settle in. All while playing top pair minutes for the Sabres in their final 18 games.

The Sabres have plenty to figure out themselves. In the short term, general manager Kevyn Adams will have until 3 p.m. Friday to find trade partners for Buffalo’s pending unrestricted free agents, a group that includes Johnson, Kyle Okposo, Zemgus Girgensons and Victor Olofsson. Any trades involving those players won’t be the type of blockbuster Adams swung Wednesday, but it’s business that needs to get done.

In the longer term, Adams needs to decide what Byram’s addition means for the construction of the roster. If Byram is Dahlin’s long-term partner, what does that mean for the other two defensive pairs? Meanwhile, the Sabres could have five open spots at forward next season. There’s no reason Adams can’t make this team look much different next season. That’s all for another day. Thursday, Adams’ latest addition looked like an ideal fit.

(Photo: George Walker IV / Associated Press)





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