Hershey Bears Coach Troy Mann had a relatively simple way for evaluating defenseman Madison Bowey last season: When he noticed him offensively, but not defensively, it was a good night.
A first professional hockey season for Bowey, arguably the Capitals’ top defensive prospect, was focused on learning the balance of staying offensively creative without becoming a defensive liability. For blue-liners with offensive upside, it’s an expected part of growing pains, something Washington’s Dmitry Orlov has also struggled with occasionally.
After a long season with the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate that included a playoff run to the Calder Cup Final, Bowey is one of Washington’s prospects at development camp this week. While the Capitals’ defense appears set for the next season, General Manager Brian MacLellan has already identified Bowey as a player who should be competing for call-ups if/when injuries hit the blue line.
“You obviously want to be there and the next level as quick as possible, but the Capitals have a great team and they know what they’re doing with their team and their prospects as well,” Bowey said in Hershey in May. “For me, it’s just making sure that I’m getting better every time I step on the ice and every day and have a good summer, and you never know what could happen next year.”
Bowey played in 70 games for the Bears, scoring four goals and 25 assists. He was an impressive plus-22, and with the focus of his development being his offensive game, Bowey played little on the power play, instead learning to play on the penalty kill.
“I think he’s a better defenseman for it,” Mann said. “I think his numbers are outstanding, considering very, very limited power play time.”
Said Bowey: “That was definitely a big goal of mine coming into the season, making sure I’m a guy that can be relied on in the defensive zone. For me, my defensive play has definitely developed, and I know just positioning-wise and feeling strong in my own end is definitely a huge key in my game right now, so I’m just trying to keep on building on that. . . . I think it’s being really patient and really reading the game and knowing when to make the right jump and join the rush and try to make things happen offensively is the biggest key there.
“If I’m playing a patient game and I’m always in the right position in the defensive zone, usually good stuff starts happening for me in the offensive zone.”
Mann also identified Bowey’s foot speed as needing improvement, especially off the rush. He was one of three rookie defensemen for the Bears, each one paired with a veteran and developing together throughout the season. Before the year started, the Capitals had a plan to leave Bowey and the other rookie blue-liners in the AHL for the entire season, even if call-ups were needed, because it would be better for their development.
That restriction is expected to be lifted next season, though he’ll still likely play most of the season in Hershey. The opportunity for the second-round pick in the 2013 draft could come during the 2017-18 season, especially if Washington loses a defenseman in the expansion draft that summer.
“I know this was the first year of my career, so right now, I’m just a young guy that really needs to develop my game,” Bowey said. “I think the best place to do it is definitely here in the AHL. It’s a great league, and obviously our coaching staff has been great all year, so I think it was a good decision that I stayed down here all year and rounded out my game.”