When defenseman Madison Bowey hit the ice for last week’s development camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the change in him was evident.
Not only had he beefed up 10 pounds [from 195 to 205] from a year ago, when he was taken by the Capitals in the second round [53rd overall] of the 2013 NHL draft.
He snapped passes with authority; rubbed out forwards along the boards with a snarl; and carried himself on and off the ice with the confidence of a veteran. And he’s still only 19 years of age.
“I’ve enjoyed watching him react to other players,” Capitals new assistant coach Todd Reirden said. “You can see he’s got some really strong leadership traits and I think that’s important moving forward.
“Those are the type of guys we want to have in our organization if we want our locker room in the future to be what we want it to be.”
The Capitals had high hopes for Bowey when they made him the 18th defensemen taken in last year’s draft and got their first look at him at last summer’s development camp. He took a big step in his development last season in Kelowna of the Western Hockey League.
Named the Rockets’ captain a month into the season, Bowey [the first syllable of his last name rhymes with COW] led his team to the best record in the 22-team Western League [57-11-0-4] and set career highs in goals , assists , penalty minutes  and plus-minus [plus-44].
“I spent the whole year working on my defensive game and making sure I was a hard defenseman to play against,” Bowey said, “and I also had a bigger role in the offense.”
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Bowey said there is a measure of pride playing for a defensive factory like Kelowna, which has produced NHL defensemen such as Shea Weber, Sheldon Souray, Luke Schenn, Tyler Myers, Duncan Keith and Josh Gorges.
During the NHL lockout, Weber visited his former team and stressed to Bowey the importance of being a well-rounded defenseman.
“He made sure us D-men know how to defend and defend well,” Bowey said. “He told us it’s a tough go in the NHL, you have to be ready for it. You can always learn from guys like that.”
Creating offense has always come natural to Bowey. Learning to defend, he says, has taken more work.
“They make sure their defensemen are very good in the defensive zone first and foremost,” he said. “That’s definitely a key to play at the next level.”
Bowey said the responsibilities of being named captain of the Rockets also aided his development.
“It was definitely an honor and the right choice I think, too,” Bowey said. “We had a good year [a club record 57 wins], too bad we didn’t win [a championship], but I think I led the team pretty well.”
Enough for the Capitals to sign Bowey to a three-year, $2.775 million entry level contract on April 2.
Three weeks later the Rockets were eliminated by the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL semifinals, with Bowey finishing the postseason with five goals and nine assists in 14 games.
“Being a younger guy I had a lot of help with the coaches,” Bowey said. “Every game and every practice I had to come to the rink wanting to be the hardest working guy on the ice and that was a big step in helping me mature into a better player.”
With the arrivals of veteran defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen the plan for Bowey is to return to Kelowna for a fourth season with the Rockets and turn pro at the start of the 2015-16 season.
A native of Winnipeg, he said he is setting his sights on representing Canada in next year’s World Junior Championships, saying it’s “one of the hardest teams to make when you’re a Canadian.”
In the meantime, his next chance to impress the Capitals will come in September when he is expected to see some NHL preseason games.
“I want to prove I am close enough,” Bowey said. “Going back to Kelowna definitely wouldn’t hurt me at all. It’ll be another year of development for me and another year for me to mature and round my game so that I can play at the next level. That’s definitely what the plan is, I think.”