“I will prepare and someday my chance will come.”
-- Abraham Lincoln
For Washington Capitals defenseman-in-waiting Madison Bowey, that chance is here. Three defensemen who started the Capitals’ last game of the 2017-2018 season play for other teams – Karl Alzner with the Montreal Canadiens, Kevin Shattenkirk with the New York Rangers, and Nate Schmidt with the Vegas Golden Knights. As things stand going into training camp, there are only five defensemen on the parent roster, and depending on how you come down on Taylor Chorney’s chances of making the Opening Night roster, there could be three (or four, if the Caps carry eight defensemen) roster spots open for a blueliner.
Bowey paid his dues to arrive at this moment in a manner familiar to many NHL-watchers. In his first full season in Canadian juniors (2011-2012 with the Kelowna Rockets), he played in 57 games (8-13-21, plus-3) and won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. The following season he improved his numbers with Kelowna (12-18-30, plus-41, in 69 games) and won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2013 U18 World Championship. It was after that season that he was taken as the 53rd overall pick (second round) by the Capitals.
Bowey scored 60 points in each of his last two seasons with the Rockets, and in both of which served as captain. In that last season with Kelowna he led the team to a Memorial Cup final and won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2015 IIHF World U20 Championship.
Then it was on to the Hershey Bears for what one hoped would be finishing school. He had a solid rookie season, appearing in 70 games an posting a scoring line of 4-25-29, plus-22. His 29 points led all Bears defensemen, and that total was ninth among rookie defensemen in the AHL. Then, a combination of youthful indiscretion and “gruesome injury” not two months apart sent his 2016-2017 season in Hershey sideways.
As it was, he appeared in just 30 regular season games for the Bears in 2016-2017 and in 10 of the team’s 12 postseason games. His regular season production (3-11-14, plus-6) was about on par with the previous season (4-25-29, plus-22) on a per-game basis, and his postseason numbers (2-2-4, plus-4, in 10 games) were an improvement over his 2016 playoff numbers (0-6-6, minus-3, in 21 games).
Odd Bowey Fact… In his last season with the Kelowna Rockets, Bowey scored more points (60) than teammate and third-overall 2014 draft pick Leon Draisaitl (53, but ok…Bowey played in 60 games while Draisaitl played in just 32). And he ended his career in junior by setting the team’s all-time mark for goals by a defenseman (58).
In his last three seasons with Kelowna, Bowey was plus-123 in 199 games. At Hershey he was plus-28 in 104 games. Sure, plus-minus, chicken-egg, was it him or the team, and all that… but good things did seem to happen more often than bad ones when he was on the ice.
Yeah, well…let’s just hope he fares better than another Kelowna blueline alumnus picked in the second round not all that long ago…
- First NHL game: October 5, 2017
- First NHL point: October 5, 2017
- First NHL goal: October 5, 2017
- First NHL assist: October 5, 2017
The Big Question… Is Madison Bowey ready for a sweater every night at the NHL level?
Simple question, but it has a lot in it. “ready” is really a lot of discrete elements. There is what fans might look at first – “skill.” The progress of Bowey’s numbers, at least on the offensive side of the ledger, certainly suggest his apprenticeship at Hershey is at, or at least near an end. Dig down, though. There is more of and a different sort of travel at this level. There won’t be three games in three nights on a road trip that he might see in the AHL, but there is the west coast trip, the trip to the western Canada provinces, the up-and-back intra-divisional trips to rival cities. Even if the travel, by economy-class traveler standards, is pretty posh, there is a lot of it. How does a rookie manage it? There is the self-management aspect. While players’ routines are rather regimented in-season, there is the matter of managing free time. Just the whole growing up thing any young 20-something might do. There is the long hard slog of an 82-game (or more, hopefully) season. Is there a wall to be hit by a player who might not have had so many games to play in a previous season?
None of these things apply to Madison Bowey uniquely. Any rookie would face them. But coming up with a team that might be expecting good, if not great things from him in a year in which there are so many openings on defense, they do seem to take on importance. Some of the factors cannot be evaluated until the season is underway and perhaps well into the cold winter. But this is a player who has played in almost 450 regular and postseason games over the past six years. He might be better equipped than most rookies to deal with the other factors so that his skill can come forward.
In the end…
A 22-year old rookie playing a hard position on the fastest team sport is not going to impress night in and night out. If fact, there is no certainty that Madison Bowey will be on the Opening Night roster. But as much as any young player with an important role to fill, it will be much more important to see what kind of player he is in March and April (or May and June) than he is in training camp or the first month of the season. What one can say right now is that he is better prepared than most to take the last step toward taking a regular shift as a defenseman in the NHL. For Madison Bowey, the “someday” described by Lincoln has arrived.
Projection: 66 games, 4-9-13, plus-2
Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America