Sudbury’s Byfield could make NHL draft history in 2020
Of Quinton Byfield, Sudbury coach Cory Stillman says: “He can pass and shoot, and he makes people around him better.”
A lot of attention has been paid to June’s 2019 NHL draft because generational talent Jack Hughes of the National Team Development Team in Plymouth Township is the prize as the top pick. But the 2020 draft will also be notable.
The early projection is that it will feature high-end talent and depth. It could also feature a player of color ever taken as the first overall pick.
That player is center Quinton Byfield, who plays with the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League. The 16-year-old, whose father, Clinton, is originally from Jamaica, is a native of Newmarket, Ontario.
Fourth overall is the highest a player of color has ever been selected in the NHL draft. The Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets) took left wing Evander Kane No. 4 in 2009 and the Nashville Predators took defenseman Seth Jones fourth in 2013. Kane now plays with the San Jose Sharks and Jones with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Despite his age – he turns 17 in August – Byfield has excelled after becoming the top pick in the OHL priority selection last April. He has 29 goals and 61 points in 64 games and was dominant – three goals and four assists in four games – in Sudbury’s sweep of Mississauga in a first-round OHL playoff series.
“Quinton’s game has elevated from the start of the year to now,” Wolves coach Cory Stillman told the Hockey News during the playoff series. “A kid who has 60 points in the regular season is still a good season, and now in the playoffs he’s our go-to guy just because he’s playing the right way in a 200-foot game.”
Byfield is already 6-4 and 214 pounds and is highly skilled with incredible speed and agility for his size. And he puts it all together on the ice.
“He can control a game now, at 16, at both ends,” Stillman said. “He can pass and shoot, and he makes people around him better.”
And Byfield also seems to have the beyond-his-years maturity necessary with his kind of talent.
He came into the OHL with much fanfare after 44 goals and 48 assists for 92 points over 34 games in 2017-18 with the Minor Midget York Simcoe Express of the Eastern AAA Minor Midget Hockey League. That’s an average of 2.71 points per game. Only the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos (2.98) and the New Jersey Devils’ Taylor Hall (2.88) have had a better points-per-game mark in that league in recent years.
Byfield has handled the attention perfectly so far and already has a distinctive look: a bowtie whenever he is wearing a suit. Despite that individual flair, however, he’s still all about the team.
“That’s a team game and that’s who he is,” Stillman told the Sudbury Star. “Even in Midget, I watched him play and with the goalie pulled. He took his 35 seconds and change. He’s becoming a pro, and the harder Quinton plays, the better everyone around him is going to play, because he’s that good of a player.”
At the moment, Byfield’s biggest competion for first overall in 2020 seems to be defenseman Alexis Lafreniere of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Rimouski Oceanic. He was that league’s first overall pick in 2017.
“He’s a big kid,” Stillman said of Byfield. “He loves coming to the rink, playing hockey and being a difference-maker.”