Out of all of the forward call-ups from the 2011-12 season, Drayson Bowman left the biggest impression on me. He was one of the team's better forwards at controlling territorial play at even strength, possessed a strong offensive upside and was able to push scoring chances in the Hurricanes favor while playing tough minutes. Unlike a lot of the Hurricanes younger forwards, Bowman showed the ability to play strong with and without the puck, which is why I thought he had the makings of being a solid NHL-er. Bowman also has a lot of offensive potential and could contribute nicely in a secondary role against weaker matchups, so there were reasons to have high hopes for him this year.
Initially slated to be a third or fourth liner, Bowman wasn't going to be depending on to do much more than provide secondary scoring and play solid defensively, something he was perfectly capable of. Even if he wasn't going to reach the scoring levels of his WHL days, Bowman showed last year that he is good enough to perform well in a depth role in the NHL, so it made sense to have some reasonable expectations for him this season. Unfortunately, Bowman didn't exactly live up to these expectations.
Bowman ended the season with only three goals and five points over 37 games, hardly providing any secondary scoring. He was also given multiple shots in the top-six and was in the lineup basically every night, so it's not lik he was being held down by the coaching staff. To make matters worse, his defensive play was much worse than it was last year. His scoring woes can be forgiven because every player goes through cold stretches even when they are creating a lot of offense, which Bowman was. However, his play away from the puck took a huge step back and this what I was the most disappointed in.
I'm not one to overreact to a small sample of games in a shortened year, but I was expecting more from Bowman this year and I think the coaching staff was, as well. Not having
enough any depth scoring was a big problem for the Canes, and Bowman's three goals in 37 games was a major part of it. Third liners aren't expected to score a ton, but they need to do better than this. He still has another year left on his contract, so I would expect Bowman to be back next year, but he will need to have a rebound year if he wants to fit in the Hurricanes long-term plans.
Bowman's usage was that of your typical depth forward, although he played fewer minutes per game than I initially thought. He kind of drifted between the second, third and fourth lines for most of the season but was generally held to around 10 minutes per game at even strength. His ice time was restricted even in the games where he played with top-six linemates, as he did not top 15 minutes once and there were plenty of games where he didn't even play 10 minutes. So while the coaching staff liked Bowman enough to give him a jersey almost every night, they did keep him back a little. Granted, most of that is because of Bowman's own limitations as a checking line player. The coaching staff also kept Bowman away from high-leverage situations on most nights, regularly sending him out in the offensive zone against other team's depth lines.
Producing shots on goal was something that Bowman himself didn't have much of an issue with, but when it came to preventing them, he struggled mightily. Bowman was the worst forward on the team at controlling scoring chances at even strength and a large part of it stemmed from bad defensive play. While Bowman wasn't on the ice for a lot of shots against, the ones he was on the ice for resulted in scoring chances for the opposing team and that doesn't speak well about his two-way game. My memory isn't good enough to know how many breakdowns he was directly responsible for, but the numbers show that the Hurricanes got lit up defensively when Bowman was on the ice, and this was coming against other team's third and fourth lines.
This combined with Bowman's minimal point-production played a pretty big role in the Hurricanes depth problems. I'm a little sympathetic to Bowman's scoring drought, though since I thought Bowman did a fine job at creating offense in terms of shots on goal but his linemates struggled, namely Jussi Jokinen & Chad LaRose. He also shot at only 4.4% and his talent level is much higher than that, so I have to think he would end up with better boxcar numbers if you were to replay the season
One redeeming quality to Bowman's performance was that he was okay in terms of territorial play, as the Hurricanes owned roughly 50% of the 5v5 shot attempts when he was on the ice. There was a brief period where the Hurricanes were getting shelled at even strength with him on the ice, but his numbers improved quite a bit toward the end of his season. Unfortunately, scoring chances mean more than puck-possession in a shortened year and Bowman was awful at controlling chances at even strength.
5v5 Zone Entries
As bad as Bowman's other numbers are, neutral zone play was one of his strong points. Bowman's a strong skater, so he is capable of creating offense in transitional play by carrying the puck into the zone often, which he was able to do this numerous times. So why are his other numbers so bad? Most of it is probably because most of the "offense" he creates are shots that either missed the net badly or were from 50 feet away and went right into the goalie's chest. Most of these come from a non-threatening are and are not registered as scoring chances, so Bowman ended up with poor numbers in that regard. The team also got crushed defensively whenever he was on the ice and the neutral zone stats posted above only take Carolina's zone entries into account and not the opponents. I mentioned earlier that Bowman was good at creating shots on goal, but the Canes could not produce much sustained offense when his line was on the ice. In other words, he was basically Carolina's Brian Rolston.
Season Grade: D+
Bowman was expected to do a few things; provide secondary scoring, control puck-possession and bolster the Hurricanes forward depth. He did none of those. I'm willing to give him a pass for the poor scoring numbers because he had some pretty terrible shooting luck, but his play in other areas was brutal. You can not have your third and fourth lines constantly get stuck in their own zone and give up chances if they aren't doing anything to make up for it at the other end. Bowman's territorial performance was marginal at best considering he was playing soft minutes and he was giving up more chances than he was producing. Forward depth was not supposed to be a problem for the Canes, but Bowman's season combined with a few other players also underperforming made it an issue. It was really disappointing to see Bowman struggle so much after he played so well last year.
The Final Word
The Hurricanes are going to need to upgrade their bottom-six and they'll have from now until September to decide of Bowman is part of the equation going forward. He is at the age where most team's cut ties with their prospects if they can't make it, so Bowman might find himself on another club if his struggles continue. That being said, I think he will be back next year. Bowman still has a year on his contract and has plenty of redeeming qualities, so this could just be a bad season for him and nothing more than that. However, I would expect Muller to keep Bowman on a much shorter leash and not be as patient with him next year.