Madison Bowey (Photo by Ken Andersen/NHLPA via Getty Images)
The powerful defenseman is enjoying a great first year of pro hockey and has the AHL's Hershey Bears one win away from the Calder Cup final. With his combination of tools and mobility, he may be the player Washington can use next season to finally get past the second round.
It's hard not to see a bitter irony in the fact that Madison Bowey is still playing hockey, while the Washington Capitals are not. After all, the Caps are the dream for Bowey, a physical two-way defenseman currently enjoying his first year of pro with the AHL's Hershey Bears.
But if Bowey can help the Bears get five more playoff wins, it will be the perfect ending to an excellent year of development for Washington's most promising blueline prospect. And perhaps a glimpse of the Capitals' future.
Thanks to a Game 3 destruction of Toronto, the Bears now have a 3-0 series stranglehold on the Eastern Conference final. Bowey imposed his will on numerous occasions in the contest, bowling over Marlies and setting up a momentum-shifting goal that turned a 2-1 Toronto lead into an eventual 8-2 Bears romp. He's one of three rookie blueliners for Hershey, along with Ty Lewington and Christian Djoos, and the march to the Calder Cup final is the payoff for a season's worth of work.
“Madison has come along way, just like every one our rookies," said coach Troy Mann. "The goal for us a coaching staff is to try to get them to improve on a month-to-month basis and that’s what we’ve done. To be at this point in the playoffs with three rookie defensemen, it’s hats off to the organization and the kids themselves for being very coachable and improving on a game-by-game basis.”
Bowey was originally taken in the second round of the 2013 draft by Washington. He cut his teeth in the WHL with the Kelowna Rockets, which is basically the University of Defense. Shea Weber, Tyler Myers and Tyson Barrie all came from the program, while Duncan Keith spent a season there after leaving Michigan State. Bowey and Winnipeg prospect Josh Morrissey continue the tradition, while Lucas Johansen looks like a second-rounder for this summer's draft.
Bowey learned a lot in junior, winning world junior gold with Canada and a WHL title with the Rockets in 2015. But his first pro season in Hershey has been pretty sweet, too.
“It’s a lot more independent and I like that," he said. "In Kelowna they really do a good job of maturing you and making sure you’re ready for the next jump and I definitely felt I was ready this year. You have to manage your time well and take on more responsibility and that’s something I’ve always enjoyed.”
Bears veteran Paul Carey has helped. The 27-year-old shared an apartment with Bowey and another rookie pro, Riley Barber, this season. And while kids these days don't need to be reminded about nutrition (the days of an all-Lucky Charms grocery run are over, apparently), the transition to pro is easier with a guiding hand.
“He was the older guy that took us under his wing and helped us out, so it was awesome to have that dynamic," Bowey said. "It’s definitely hard your first year, with a lot of ups and downs, and he was always there to calm us down.”
Needless to say, hockey was always on the TV in the apartment and the Hershey trio watched a lot of the parent Capitals (Carey even played four games for Washington this year). For Bowey, it gave him more chances to study John Carlson, Washington's top D-man and a player who provides a nice template for two-way excellence.
Carlson played in Bowey's first exhibition game this past fall and while the two aren't mirror images, Washington could do worse than having a Carlson acolyte to supplement the real thing in the future.
Because make no mistake: after getting sunk by Pittsburgh in the second round, the heat has never been higher on this Washington group. Alex Ovechkin can't be expected to score 50 goals a season forever and the time is overdue to at least play for the Stanley Cup.
While Washington has a good defense, Pittsburgh's speed gave the whole team fits and Bowey is the type of player who could keep up in the near future. Not only that, but his ability to plaster opponents with big hits could fill the role currently slipping away from veteran Brooks Orpik. What Bowey lacks in experience, he makes up for in offensive upside and while he's not a finished product, he doesn't look that far off.
Year One in Hershey has been a total success for him and it's hard not seeing Bowey getting at least some games, if not a lot of games in Washington next season. In Hershey, he has a steady 'D' partner in Ryan Stanton (the former Vancouver Canuck) and a great environment to hone his young game.
“First and foremost, it’s about making sure I’m ready handle the bigger guys and the more talented players at the next level," Bowey said. "It’s been great and I can’t wait to see what happens in the future.”
Pay attention, Caps fans: Bowey may be the piece that helps Washington's future, but also the team's potential destiny.