April 05, 2012 9:54 AM
Though it came a few days earlier than expected, this return to the AHL is a little different for Drayson Bowman.
Gone is the twinge of disappointment that comes with a reassignment from the Carolina Hurricanes, something he’s experienced often in the first three years of his professional career. After all, the NHL season is over in a few more days, while the Checkers have seven regular-season games remaining and a playoff run after that if all goes well – something Bowman knew he would be a part of ever since the Checkers put him on their Clear Day roster last month.
It also helps that Bowman’s just-concluded stint was easily his most successful to date, as he posted NHL career highs in games played (37), goals (six), assists (seven) and points (13). That includes a run of six points in his last 11 games, including a career-best, three-point performance in Minnesota on March 17.
“I was just more comfortable with how I played and what they wanted me to do,” said Bowman. “It was nice to finally show some offense, which is something I’ve always thought I can do at that level.”
Though it comes with the territory of being a top prospect, Bowman, like many other current Checkers players, is used to the ups and downs that go along with quick trips to the NHL. At any moment, one player who finally made it can be swapped out with another still waiting his turn. That makes it all the more remarkable that Bowman stuck with the Canes for much of the season’s second half, playing 24 of their last 28 games. Ever since the trade of Alexei Ponikarovsky created an extra spot at forward, Bowman occupied it.
“There’s always pressure, and even when you’re up there you’re competing for roles and trying to establish yourself, but I felt like I belonged there,” he said.
It could very well be that he does. He’ll be hoping to start next season as a full-time NHL player, and a strong finish to his season at the AHL level will help him do just that.
“He’s going to come down here to prove a point that he belongs at the next level, because that starts here,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “He showed he can play at top speed, and the challenge here will be keeping that speed.”
Bowman will be in the lineup for Thursday’s game against Milwaukee, during which he’ll play on what should be formidable scoring line with Zac Dalpe and Chris Terry. He’ll also see time on the power play, where his six goals still rank tied for third on the team despite the fact that he’s only played 35 AHL games. Only Jerome Samson (eight) and Bobby Sanguinetti (seven) have more.
Prior to making that last trip to Carolina, Bowman was playing some of his best hockey of the season, scoring eight points (3g, 5a) in his last seven AHL games.
“I’ve been scoring more often, which is good because I had a tough year last year,” said Bowman, who had 30 points (12, 18a) in 51 AHL games and just one point, an assist, 23 NHL games. “I was used to scoring in junior and had scored more in my first American League season, so it’s been good to get back to that.”
“It’s another top-end forward for us at this level,” said Daniels.
Besides the offense, Daniels said Bowman is now at the point where he can also be counted upon for his defense – something he cited when asked about the biggest step forward that the 23-year-old took this season.
“He’s just more of a complete player,” he said. “This year he wanted to take on more of a defensive role and kill penalties, and he proved that he can do that.”
Joining Bowman as a new face in the Checkers lineup tonight will be defenseman Ryan Donald. The Checkers recalled Donald from the ECHL’s Florida Everblades on Thursday morning as fellow blueliner Rasmus Rissanen picked up a lower-body injury in Tuesday’s game and is day-to-day.
Additionally, Bobby Sanguinetti (upper body) will miss his fourth consecutive game and is also day-to-day, as are forwards Nicolas Blanchard and A.J. Jenks.
Donald, 25, has played three games with the Checkers this season, most recently on March 18. His plus-19 rating in the ECHL regular season ranked second on the Everblades, while his plus-4 rating in two playoff victories over Greenville is tied for the team lead.