After an uncertain few weeks, Drayson Bowman is just happy to have a place to play.
Of the 12 players on two-way contracts that needed to pass through waivers to join the Checkers prior to the NHL work stoppage, Bowman was the only one that the Hurricanes held back. Fearing another team might claim him, Carolina deemed it to be the safest option.
The only problem was that it left Bowman officially locked out of the NHL along with hundreds of other players with no chance to build on what seemed to be his best chance of making the Hurricanes to date.
“Honestly, I didn’t really know what was going to happen,” he said. “I figured that all the guys that needed to be waived would be waived, but once I saw a few guys not get put on, I kind of figured it out.”
Fortunately, a special AHL rule opened a door. Players who finished last season on an AHL roster and were on an AHL team’s Clear Day list, as Bowman was with the Checkers, are eligible to sign AHL contracts even if they already have an NHL deal in place.
“Once other guys started signing AHL deals my agent called me and it just took a little while to get everything in order,” said Bowman, who joined the Checkers on Wednesday after missing the first four days of camp. “I’m happy to have a place to play.”
Unlike the players that the Hurricanes assigned to Charlotte last month, Bowman did have other options available if he had chosen to explore them. For example, many locked out NHL players, which Bowman still is, technically, have signed short-term contracts with European clubs.
Bowman said that he never got to the point of considering that route, instead choosing to take part in informal workouts with Colorado Avalanche players in his hometown of Denver.
“I just sat tight for a few weeks to see how it would all play out,” he said. “Worst-case, I would have just skated with the guys in Raleigh to try to keep myself ready.”
Once other players in his situation started signing AHL contracts, Bowman’s agent got to be in contact with the team and the choice became clear.
“Once I found out about the rule I was pretty sure this was where I was going to play,” he said. “I’m ready to get going.”
Bowman, one of the top forwards on the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliates for the last three seasons, should be in no danger of losing that job. Rather, his presence will make life more difficult for other players already on the fringes of the roster, with it becoming increasingly likely that players who would be AHL-caliber in any other season will lose their daily place in the lineup or start the season one step lower in the ECHL. Bowman is the 20th forward at camp, with the team likely to dress 12 on opening night.
Still, it’s not necessarily where Bowman was hoping to end up, having played a career-high 37 NHL games with Carolina last season, mostly during the second half. He managed to play a solid two-way game during that time, chipping in 13 points (6g, 7a) to go along with a defensive game then considered to be ahead of many of the other forwards from Charlotte.
That led him to anticipate bigger things this season, but those are on hold for the time being.
“It’s tough,” he said. “The NHL is where you want to be, and you spend all summer getting ready for that training camp and that opportunity.”
That’s also been said in previous years by Bowman and others who suffer the sting of being cut by an NHL team in the final days of camp. However, due to the lack of alternative, this one should be quite different.
“I’m excited to be here and excited to get off to a good start,” he said.