Bowman eager to get to NHL ASAP

by Lindsay Kramer ||

Albany River Rats rookie forward Drayson Bowman chuckles at the goal his coach, Jeff Daniels, holds up as an example of one of his signature moments this season.

The goal against Syracuse on Nov. 11 looked like nothing special at the time. Bowman eyed a puck that had bounced off the boards behind the Crunch goal, quickly calculated the appropriate time to meet it and then slammed it home from a tough angle.

A less savvy player might have rushed the moment and fired wildly. Daniels’ point was that the play required an appropriate amount of judgment, and, what’s that quality?

Oh yeah, patience.

In other words, a trait seldom associated with the precocious prospect.

"I wouldn’t say I’m patient off the ice," Bowman laughed. "That’s not what I’m known for."

What Bowman, 20, is primarily known for is offense. The sharpshooter paced Spokane of the WHL in scoring each of the last two seasons, with 82 points in 2007-08 and 83 last season. He finished his Spokane career with 130 goals and 112 assists in 265 games, and averaged more than a point per game in 39 career playoff games (21-19).

A close second on his list of personality traits is blunt ambition. Ask Bowman, a third-round pick by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2007, about his future, and there’s no room for diplomacy.

"I want to make the NHL," said Bowman, who notched 6 goals and 6 assists in his first 18 games with Albany. "And I don’t want the slow road."

The long road, maybe. Bowman grew up in Colorado until his family moved to the Vancouver area when Drayson was 13. Parents Mack and Nancy wanted Drayson and younger brother Colin to get better hockey competition and put them in position to possibly get taken in the WHL draft.

"It was a huge sacrifice for my parents, a lot more of a risk on their part," Drayson said. "I was too young to realize what they were doing. I just wanted to play hockey. Scoring five goals a game in Colorado wasn’t going to help me. To go play against some of the best kids in Canada helped me a lot. I never felt overwhelmed. I felt comfortable right away."

The strategy looked golden when Drayson became a first-round draft pick by Spokane. And what if his career had sputtered against the better competition? Bowman said he never really considered the stakes riding on his family’s move.

"Looking back, there was a lot of risk, but it worked out pretty well. There, maybe, should have been a lot of pressure on me. But I was so young, I just wanted to play hockey," he said. "If I got drafted in the WHL, and was an average player, at least I enjoyed what I did."

Bowman was far from run-of-the-mill. With 17 goals as a rookie in 2005-06, he became the first 16-year-old to notch double-digit goals for Spokane since Brandin Cote in 1997-98. His ascent slowed a little in his second season, when a broken wrist held him to 24 goals and 19 assists in 61 games.

Unfortunately for him, that was his draft year. Carolina might have gotten a bargain, and Bowman picked up even more motivation. He bounced back as an 18-year-old with 42 goals and 40 assists in 66 games for Spokane.

"I really found my game that year. I always knew I had a real good shot. It was just a matter of when and where to use it," Bowman said. "I think it was a combination from the disappointment of the year before and having something to prove. I wanted to show everyone I was a top-level prospect. I have real high expectations for myself, sometimes to a fault. I want to be the best, among the elite players in hockey. I guess it’s a real competitiveness I’ve developed."

That edginess supersedes jersey color. Bowman is part of a trio of strong prospects up front in the Carolina system, along with Zach Boychuk (first round, 2008) and Brandon Sutter (first round, 2007).

As a third-rounder, Bowman stands a little off to the side of the spotlight when compared to those two. He looks at them and wonders what he needs to do to put himself in the same general glow.

"I don’t get quite as much attention as those guys, but they are both first-round picks," he said. "You always compare yourself to guys who are good, especially guys you are around. We can make each other better. You have to ask yourself, ‘What does he do that I don’t?’ I think that’s healthy. I don’t think that’s selfish."

The concrete, albeit temporary, dividing line between Boychuk, Sutter and Bowman is that the first two have taken NHL shifts, while Bowman has not. Bowman thought the Hurricanes might have given him that chance coming out of training camp. But he had his place in the pecking order a little higher than the organization did.

"I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me. I went into training camp with high hopes. It didn’t work out," he said. "Now, I have to be patient, which, unfortunately I’m not. There’s not a lot I can do except try to get better."

Daniels indicated that Bowman might be selling himself short on the slow-and-steady front. The coach said he’s seen focus and fine-tuning from his rookie, not distraction and hurriedness.

"He loves to shoot the puck. And there’s no panic to his game around the net. He’s a smart player," Daniels said. "He’s all business. He’s very professional in the way he prepares himself. He’s confident in his ability. There is no awe factor. He know he’s down here to work."

For all of Bowman’s self-assuredness, the results have sometimes come like a car battery turning over on a cold winter morning. He potted a goal in each of his first three games with Albany, went goal-less in nine straight, came up with three in three again and then was kept off the score sheet in three straight. Also, against the Crunch on Nov. 25, he was sidelined by an unspecified leg injury.

"Things have gone OK. I got off to a real good start, felt comfortable right away," he said. "I don’t feel overwhelmed. It (a mini-slump) was bound to happen. It happens to a lot of guys."

And that’s precisely the rub. Bowman has spent much of the past several years trying to separate himself from the pack. With the final — and most difficult — push remaining, Bowman can’t stomach the notion of blending in now.

"I don’t like waiting around for my chance. A lot of guys have that attitude. Everybody wants to go up," he said. "I still have a few things to work on in my game. But I feel like I’m close to playing at that level. It’s really not in my control, except for the way I play down here."