January 29, 2020

Byfield flourishing in draft spotlight

Quinton Byfield is no stranger to being the center of attention.

At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, the Sudbury Wolves pivot is hard to miss.

But earning his way onto Canada’s entry at both the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and IIHF World Junior Championship squads, as well as participating in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game as captain of Team Red, the spotlight on the 17-year-old Newmarket, ON native has only grown brighter.

Sometimes with that attention comes unfair expectations.

Despite tearing up the Ontario Hockey League, Byfield — one of the youngest players in the tournament — saw limited action at the World Juniors, and only registered one assist.

It didn’t dampen the experience.

“It was just really a treat to be invited to camp and then making the team — that’s something special, especially for a young guy like myself,” Byfield said. “I just enjoyed the ride, enjoyed the experience, and had a lot of fun with the boys.

“I got to learn everything, how everyone rolled, and what it takes to win — what you have to go through. That’s something I’ll take into next year if I get the chance to play there again.”

Cory Stillman, Byfield’s coach in Sudbury, knows that if people want to get a true sense of who Byfield is, they should simply watch him leading the Wolves.

In nearly every sense.

“I think he’s done a great job this year,” Stillman said. “Everybody’s going to go to his World Juniors, but it’s a 19-year-old’s tournament. I’d say here, day-in, day-out, he’s the best player in the League and it’s a treat to watch and coach him, and actually see what he can do when he has the puck.”

His development doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

As a rookie last year, he performed at almost a point-per-game pace in scoring 29 goals and adding 32 assists in 64 games. He was named OHL and Canadian Hockey League rookie of the year for his efforts.

This year, he’s already surpassed those totals with 29 goals and 70 points in only 36 games.

The growth has come from both the OHL and internationally.

“In the OHL, there are a lot of highly skilled prospects here, but when you go overseas to play in something like the World Juniors, it’s definitely a step up,” Byfield said. “You’re playing against the best of the best from their leagues. You know you’re playing against some older guys that are already in the pros, so definitely the speed is faster. That’s really challenging, but that’s the league you want to play in and that’s why you play hockey.”

Of course, playing with his direct competition in the 2020 NHL Draft will also draw comparisons — but it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison.

The sizeable left-shot center, second in Future Considerations’ Winter ranking for the 2020 draft, cuts an imposing presence and was the first overall pick in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection, Byfield was born in August 2002.

Alexis Lafreniere of the Rimouski Oceanic in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the consensus top pick and Byfield’s primary competitor, is a late birthday having been born in October 2001.

Regardless, Byfield said he’s not focused on who’s first or second.

He’s happy to be so highly regarded, regardless.

“It’s just be cool to be up there,” he said. “You just want to be drafted. As a kid you dream about that. Just to be considered to be up there is definitely really special; not everyone gets that opportunity. It’s also a huge confidence booster — it gives you confidence on the ice as well. It’s just a lot of fun.”

Byfield added that he and Lafreniere have become tight thanks to this process.

“I got to know him off the ice and we became really close friends. We’re going through the experience together so there’s not really a rivalry — we’re close guys,” he said. “But game respects game. We’ve played against each other a couple of times; we’ve played with each other and it’s always fun.”

And he added that Lafreniere has a lot of game to respect, outlining the differences between their styles.

“I think he’s actually the more physical guy — he can throw his body around a lot,” Byfield said. I think I’m a little bit faster than him, so I can use my advantage and my strength. But he’s an exceptional two-way player and he throws the body around well.”

There’s even more to Byfield’s game.

Stillman has been impressed with his young captain and thinks he’s well on the right track.

In fact, he had a hard time suggesting areas of improvement for Byfield.

“He does bring it every night, but if he could bring it even a little bit more every night, he’d be ahead of everybody,” Stillman said. “He skates, he shoots, he plays defense. I wouldn’t say there’s too much to work on in the game, except maturity and that just comes with age.”

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