Out among the skyline of Kelowna, hard by the banks of the Okanagan Lake in southern British Columbia, the Rockets pump out blue-line prospects like factory smoke. Shea Weber played there in the early 2000s, before he became a three-time Norris Trophy nominee for the Nashville Predators. So did Duncan Keith, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for Canada just like Weber, and a two-time Stanley Cup winner for the Chicago Blackhawks.
“It’s a top-notch organization,” said the latest star Kelowna defenseman hoping to join them. “We get everything we really need. It really helps the guys develop, the players to make it to the next level.”
Madison Bowey had just finished another autograph session at Washington Capitals developmental camp, where he grades among the top prospects clamoring to impress the coaches and build a future with the NHL club that drafted them. And since the NHL-CHL agreement forbids players drafted into the CHL from leaping into the AHL or ECHL until they are 20 years old (or have completed four seasons in major juniors), the Capitals could theoretically play Bowey for up to nine games without burning a year off his three-year, entry-level deal. That said, Bowey’s immediate future likely remains in Kelowna, where he was named captain before last season.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Bowey said. “Being a younger guy too, definitely had a lot of help from the coaches, which they did a great job with me. My leadership crew was great, with my assistant captains. I definitely learned a lot. I’m still trying to learn and hopefully I’ll be a great captain again.”
Much like Riley Barber, Bowey’s teammate this week at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the 19-year-old Canadian matured through his captaincy. He learned that every day meant setting a new example for his teammates. He was the 20th captain in team history, the latest in a lineage that included Josh Gorges, later of the Canadiens and Sabres, and Tyson Barrie, who has logged 106 games for the Avalanche. Both, of course, are defensemen.
“That was pretty cool,” Bowey said, with a clear eye on Kelowna’s track record of dumping blue-liners into the NHL. He learned this best during the latest lockout, when the Rockets brought alumni back to speak. Among them was Weber, who played for Washington Coach Barry Trotz on the Predators.
“You can always learn from guys like that,” Bowey said. “It’s awesome to see.”
Soon, Bowey was invoking the path of another Nashville defenseman, the 19-year-old Seth Jones, a model for teenagers like Bowey seeking to crack the NHL this early into their careers. Of course, Jones is an extraordinary case, drafted fourth overall last season before leaping into the lineup by early October, but in him – and Pittburgh’s Olli Maatta, and Washington’s Conner Carrick, for that matter – Bowey sees a chance.
“That’s what I’m trying to model my game and style after,” he said. “It is possible and that’s definitely a goal I have [to make the NHL soon], but it has to come with hard work.”
But with another season ahead of captaining the Rockets, for whom he scored 21 goals and dished 39 assists over 72 games, doubling his point total from 2012-13, simply proving he can hang in Washington will be enough, for now.
“Obviously I think I’m going to try to show my best in this camp and also coming into the summer, summer camp and minicamp,” he said. “I want to try to prove I’m close enough. Going to back to Kelowna definitely didn’t hurt me at all. I think it’ll be another year, going back for a captain, another year for me to mature again, round my game to make sure I can play at the next level. That’s definitely what the plan is, I think.”