World Juniors selection camp got underway Tuesday, with 46 players vying for 25 spots as Canada looks to defend its gold medal win from a year ago. The 10-team tournament will be contested in a bubble in Edmonton from Dec. 25 through to the championship game on Jan. 5.
Like all other sports these days, access has been limited to Zoom calls after practice. Based on that, Quinton Byfield has quickly turned a lot of heads. Not only is he a returnee from last year’s gold medal team, but Byfield was selected second overall by the Los Angeles Kings just over a month ago.
In the truncated 2019-20 season, Byfield put up 32 goals and 80 points in 52 games for the Sudbury Wolves. A year older, a year wiser and definitely a lot stronger, Byfield projects to lock down a top-three centre position.
Last year, he was the happy-go-lucky youngster who averaged 8:41 of ice time per game. He finished the tournament with one assist in seven games, with a minus-3 rating and just seven shots on goal. He didn’t play one minute in the gold medal game. It’s clear he took full advantage of the time off, not only to be an impact player for Canada, but to take his best shot at making the Kings as soon as the 2020-21 season begins.
Canada head coach Andre Tourigny noticed a “huge” difference in Byfield from when he last saw him on the ice. Teammates have also spoken highly of the Newmarket, Ont., native.
“He can beat you with speed, he can beat you with hands, there’s a lot of stuff he can do,” said Mississauga Steelheads defenceman Thomas Harley.
“He’s got an NHL release,” commented Prince George netminder Taylor Gauthier. A sentiment echoed by Saginaw’s Tristan Lennox, who also took shots from Byfield in Friday’s practice.
In a self-assessment, Byfield has noticed improved first-step explosiveness. Another goal was to “evolve my physical game, and that will help (me) shield the puck and separate body from puck, from opponents.”
Lastly, from a media perspective, he’s speaking more directly, more confidently, and his quips between questions posed to podium mate Jakob Pelletier Thursday prove that he’s much more comfortable in the team setting than he was in his first go around.
News and Notes:
• As negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA continue, a Jan. 1 start date is looking less likely. This may be good news for Team Canada as Alexis Lafreniere remains absent from camp. A Dec. 13 cutoff date is in place for his arrival. Team Canada will enter the Edmonton bubble on that day and begin quarantining for the start of their tournament on Dec. 26.
The idea is to have Lafreniere experience his first full NHL camp before starting the season with the Rangers. Is it better for Lafreniere to attend WJC camp and try to lead Canada to another gold medal, or sit back and wait for Rangers camp to start? Of course he nor the Rangers want to risk injury. In my opinion, he’s better off playing for Canada and then making his way to Rangers camp to hit the ground running. I think the WJC experience can only enhance Lafreniere’s game.
• University of Michigan freshman defenceman Owen Power was not released to go to camp for fear of missing too much time with the Wolverines. Power is a projected top-10 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. In his NCAA debut, he had a goal and two assists in an 8-1 win over Arizona State. He also drew the lone assist on Thomas Bordeleau’s OT game-winner in a 2-1 victory over Wisconsin Friday night.
• Drummondville’s Xavier Simoneau has finally made his way to Red Deer after awaiting test results. Brandon’s Ridly Greig remains the last player to report to Canada’s camp. He tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 8 but is expected to join the team early next week.
• With only the QMJHL playing games, a total of nine QMJHL-based players left their teams to participate in Canada’s world junior selection camp. Charlottetown stands to be impacted the most, with the loss of defenceman Lukas Cormier, a Vegas pick who currently leads all Q blue liners with 21 points. Cormier has literally done it all for Jim Hulton’s Islanders. He has nine power-play points, three power-play goals, two game-winners and one shorthanded tally, while leading his team to a 12-2 start.
• Canada’s first cuts are expected to come after Tuesday’s intrasquad game.
• The three players from NCAA programs are expected to participate with the group as follows: Dylan Holloway on November 29, Alex Newhook on November 27 and Devin Levi on November 24.