How will world juniors affect Byfield, Lafreniere’s race to first overall?

Forward Quinton Byfield shoots the puck during practice at the Team Canada world juniors. (Nathan Denette/CP)

The 2020 World Junior Championship draws near, with the best young prospects from around the globe champing at the bit to prove their worth on the international stage.

But when Team Canada takes the ice for the late December–early January tournament, there’ll be another key competition at play.

The red and white is well-stocked with talent heading into the tournament, particularly at forward, where the club will send over the boards two of the most dominant prospects in the game — the two will likely hear their names called first and second at the 2020 NHL Draft.

Alex Lafreniere’s held the mantle as the presumptive first-overall king for quite a while. But young Quinton Byfield has burst onto the scene to potentially snag that distinction. So, how will the Canadian forwards’ participation at the upcoming world juniors affect things?

Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino joined Rory Boylen and Ryan Dixon on the Tape to Tape podcast to break down the pair of star forwards and their upcoming tournament bids.

“I think Lafreniere has that star potential,” Cosentino said. “I don’t think he’s going to be held back — at this point last year I felt that he was. I think they’re just going to kind of let him run free and do what he does here this year. Having said that, he’s banged up by an ankle issue, I think they’ve taken the appropriate amount of time to get him back to being healthy. You’d never know with 70 points through 32 games in the Q, but he’s been dealing with this issue for some time now.

“So, when I look at him, I think he has star potential. I think he’s got a real opportunity to be one of the top producers in the tournament.”

That said, don’t sleep on Byfield, whose reputation may not feature the same history of acclaim, but whose skill-set makes him a serious challenger for No. 1 overall in 2020.

“The one thing about Quinton is, you might look at the end of the tournament and not see massive point totals, but I think you’re going to see a guy who’s going to play a lot,” Cosentino said. “Because he’s got size, good speed, good skill — the fact of the matter is on this team, he can play in a couple different spots in your lineup, and I think at the end of the day, with his ability to play in three zones and his size and his speed, he doesn’t necessarily have to be a point producer to be a contributor to this club.”

The most interesting aspect to watch will be how the two future NHLers compete knowing the internal rivalry is at play.

“I think they’re both well aware that they’re probably one and two in this draft,” Cosentino said. “And it’s been Lafreniere for two years now because he’s a late birthday. Byfield has jumped onto the scene here this year, and there would be a lot of people out there that would look at a six-foot-four, 215-pound centre and say maybe that’s the direction I’m going to go in.

“So, not only do you have one player who’s a returnee, one guy who’s fresh on the scene, but you have that internal competition knowing that this event is so highly scouted. And against this type of competition, this is going to provide scouts with some really good looks.

“Who knows, by the end of it, maybe Byfield escapes from this thing as the No. 1-ranked prospect.”

Watch Cosentino’s full breakdown of the upcoming tournament and the potential performances from Lafrieniere and Byfield in the video embedded in this post.

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