Prospect of Interest: Quinton Byfield has makings of franchise centre

Quinton Byfield may be the complete package on the ice, but he’s not letting it get to his head with NHL draft hype surrounding him.

The No. 2 North American-based skater on NHL Central Scouting’s final prospect ranking behind consensus top pick Alexis Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield has the makings of a prototypical franchise centre. Peak potential think Evgeni Malkin or a left-shot Ryan Getzlaf.

With a solid combination of size, speed, skill, vision and tenacity when it comes to puck battles, Byfield is an ideal piece to build a team around. And, as one of the younger players in the draft, still has room to grow and add strength to his imposing frame.

Here’s what you need to know about Byfield.

Team: Sudbury Wolves
Position: Centre
Shoots: Left
Age: 17 (born Aug. 19, 2002)
From: Newmarket, Ontario
Height: 6-foot-4
Weight: 215 pounds

Made huge gains in two OHL seasons

Byfield was selected first overall by the Sudbury Wolves in the 2018 OHL Draft and shone as a 16-year-old rookie. He finished his first year with the Wolves scoring 29 goals and 32 assists in 64 regular-season games, adding eight points in eight playoff outings, and was named both OHL and CHL rookie of the year.

His junior coach, former NHL forward Cory Stillman, noted a clear progression in Byfield’s 200-foot game over the course of his rookie season.

“Early in the year, when he didn’t have the puck, he wanted to chase it,” Stillman said after the 2018-19 season. “In junior hockey, if you’re out of position, someone’s going to make a pass to your guy. Once he realized he should slow down, wait for it, and then attack and go get the puck, he got back into having it more. … As the season went on, and we got into playoffs, if their goalie was pulled, I had enough confidence that he could play in an odd-man situation to win the hockey game also.”

He upped the ante in 2019-20, producing at nearly two points per game. Before the season was cut short, Byfield had 32 goals and 82 points in only 45 appearances.

“A player with his size and strength, and I think there’s more size and strength to come, but to able to have soft hands and vision and make plays and when players try to eliminate him, he can beat you with power or he can beat you with hands and hockey sense, so it makes him very, very tough to contain and a very attractive prospect obviously,” NHL Central Scouting’s David Gregory said on a video conference call earlier this month.

Had a quiet WJC but the experience helped him grow

Byfield won a world juniors gold medal with Canada in January but his name seldom showed up on the score sheet. He had only one assist, four penalty minutes and a minus-3 rating in seven games, but soaked up the experience nonetheless.

“Playing with all the amazing talent and competing against the best players and best prospects going to the NHL, it was a lot of fun,” Byfield told Junior Hockey Magazine in February. “I think I just tried to take some tips from a couple of the pro players on my team. They kind of showed me the ropes and gave me pointers. I tried to bring back (to the Wolves) all the tips and hints they gave me. The pace over there was a lot faster than the OHL, so I think I have more patience to slow down the game now in coming back from the world juniors. I think I can impact the game a lot more now.”

In particular, going up against Lafreniere in those Team Canada practices was an iron-sharpens-iron situation.

“Just getting to watch him and battle against him in practice, it really stepped up my game there,” Byfield said of Lafreniere. “He does everything well. He even gets into the physical side as well, which kind of surprised me. He definitely brought a lot of energy to the table even with his skill. He had a couple of key goals for us. It was just nice getting to know him.”

He is half Jamaican

Byfield’s father, Clinton, emigrated from Jamaica and the centre is proud of his roots. There have been 11 Black players selected in the first round of the NHL Draft in the past 14 years, but none have gone higher than fourth overall (Seth Jones in 2013, Evander Kane in 2009). Byfield could become the highest-selected Black player if he’s taken in the top three as many scouts believe he will, and it’s something he said he would take pride in.

“Being top for something is always cool and being the top pick among players of colour would definitely be something really special to me,” he told NHL.com. “I think the game is changing and the NHL is becoming more diverse. Definitely that would get kids motivated to start playing hockey, knowing that they can play, and that hockey is for everyone.”

Models his game after Malkin

As mentioned above, when you see Byfield out on the ice you might see shades of the Penguins superstar and it’s not a fluke. In addition to having a similar frame, Byfield has tried to model his game after Malkin.

“It’s just an honour to be compared to that guy. He’s a soon-to-be Hall of Famer,” Byfield said on a Zoom call in April with fellow top prospects Lafreniere, Tim Stutzle and Jamie Drysdale. “I definitely watch as much Pittsburgh games as possible just to see what he does on the ice and how he plays. He’s a big, 200-foot centre and just the amazing offensive ability he has. Just how he plays is just unbelievable. I definitely watch him quite a bit and try and model my game after him.”

His minor hockey stats were silly

Before debuting in the OHL, Byfield played his minor hockey with the York-Simcoe Express in Ontario’s Eastern AAA Hockey League. In 2016-17 he averaged more than three points per game by scoring 47 goals and adding 61 assists in 33 games. The following year he had 48 goals and 92 points in 34 games. No wonder he went No. 1 to the Wolves a couple years ago.

Notable York-Simcoe Express alumni include: Barclay Goodrow, Ryan Murphy, Chris Tierney, Travis Dermott and Robert Thomas.

He doesn’t use much tape on his stick

A little tape goes a long way for Byfield, who says he finds it “easier to stickhandle with less tape” because “your blade moves faster on the ice.” He admits it’s a bit harder to saucer pass but since that’s not one of his go-to moves out there it’s not a big deal.

He collects bowties

Byfield was rocking a bowtie on his OHL Draft day and if there’s a non-virtual NHL Draft in 2020 you’ll see him wearing one when he walks onstage to greet Gary Bettman and the executives from the team that selects him. And even in a virtual draft, you’ll probably see him wearing a bowtie wherever he’s watching it from.

“The bowtie collection’s up there. I have over 30 or 40 of them. I have some funky ones.”

It’s a fashion preference he has had for a few years. Certainly not one of the most common hobbies among kids his age, but it’s yet another thing that sets him apart.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.