Photo Credit – Aaron Bell, CHL/OHL Images, Photo Taken by Chris Tanouye.
Quinton Byfield. Get used to saying that name because if your team doesn’t end up picking him, you’ll hate playing against the top 2002-born prospect in the world.
Byfield joined the struggling Sudbury Wolves squad two years ago, marking the team’s second first overall pick in three years after David Levin made headlines as the first Israeli-born prospect to get drafted to the OHL. Levin had a good OHL career, but the rest of the league wasn’t ready for what Byfield was capable of.
Byfield was an instant threat, winning the OHL’s rookie of the year honors with 61 points in 64 games – helping the Wolves win more than 40 games for the first time in over 20 years. He upped his game as a sophomore, posting 18 points in the first eight games to be the hottest prospect out of the gate. He cooled down shortly after, but one thing was clear: Byfield made everyone around him better.
Byfield’s play was brought into question by some fans following an almost invisible seven games at the World Junior Championship. Even though he was the youngest forward on the team, which ultimately led to less ice time, it was a surprise given his dominant performance during camp that made perhaps the best forward over the few days in Oakville. However, his World Junior Championship performance should not hurt his draft stock: very few U-18 players ever have an impact at the tournament (don’t forget that Lafreniere has an extra year of major junior development under his belt) and even though top players typically shine through, you’re talking about taking a top prospect that’s used to carrying his team and giving him under nine minutes a night.
But Byfield bounced back in the only way he could, recording six points in his first two games back before finishing January with a trio of multi-point efforts. Just how important was Byfield to Sudbury’s scoring hopes? In the seven games in which Byfield failed to register a point (including the lone back-to-back stretch in January in which he didn’t hit the scoresheet, for those worrying about his consistency this season), the Wolves went 1-5-1. In the seven games that Byfield missed during the World Junior Championship, the Wolves went 1-6-0. Take that for what you will, but it’s clear Sudbury wouldn’t be as strong as they were this season without Byfield on the ice.
For the past few years, Byfield has been seen as the No. 2 prospect behind Rimouski’s Alexis Lafreniere. They play different styles with their own fantastic qualities, but Lafreniere and his ability to completely take a game over (and the numbers to back it up) has the edge. But there’s also a reason why the 2020 draft is so highly regarded: Byfield’s production would make him the top prospect in many other years, with some even suggesting he’s closer to No. 1 than No. 3.
Let’s take a closer look at Byfield’s play:
Byfield’s Style of Play
The first thing you’ll notice with Byfield is that he can be physically dominant when he needs to. Dating back to his youth hockey days, Byfield looked like a mature man that could handle older, tougher competition thanks to his strength with and without the puck. But while many bigger kids have to rely on size to be fully effective, Byfield doesn’t. When he isn’t throwing big hits or shielding the puck away from attackers, he’s focused on getting pucks on net, something he had no issue achieving as Sudbury’s top scorer.
Byfield’s goals often come in close proximity, either just around the crease or below the hash marks. Byfield uses his strength to hold his own around the net and create havoc in front of the goalie, but a big reason as to why he’s so successful in close is because of how he uses his skating to his advantage. For a kid his size, skating is a non-issue. While he doesn’t possess elite top-speed, he doesn’t need to because he’s got fantastic acceleration that allows him to force breakaways and turnovers on the rush. When you get someone his size moving at a high velocity, stopping him becomes a challenge, especially when trying to defend him on a rush in close. It doesn’t look effortless by any means, but it’s effective and a huge positive in his game.
Byfield’s shot has never been a top aspect of his overall game, but we’re still talking about a player who was on pace for nearly 50 goals this season. Again, he does much of his damage in close, but he’s creative with his chances. When teams realize how deadly he is around the crease, Byfield uses the extra space away from the net to unleash his hard wrist shot, and compared to some of the other top prospects, he’s not afraid to send out a blast of a slapper.
In a chart posted by Louis Troxler, he calculated that – while using an NHLe modifier based on each league’s respective average to compare draft-eligible prospects – Byfield’s primary-points-per-estimated-60 is 4.77 – a solid leap up from OHL MVP Marco Rossi’s 4.46 and over a full point above Lafreniere’s 3.76. What this says is that Byfield gets the most out of his opportunities, which isn’t surprising given his star status in Sudbury.
So how does Byfield’s production compare to other seasons from top OHLers? Byfield’s 1.82 points-per-game average is good for sixth over the past decade, but when you take into consideration that Connor McDavid, Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk had some high-quality teammates surrounding him too, it’s something special. For consideration, Andrei Svechniov had a 1.64 rating in 2017-18.
Byfield didn’t have the final explosive numbers that Lafreniere had this season, but the underlying stats suggest Byfield is far ahead of the curve. Remember, Lafreniere is nearly a year older than Byfield with an extra year of development, but Byfield’s 15.16 even-strength relative goal percentage tops Lafreniere’s 12.77. Albeit, they played in different leagues, but Lafreniere also played on one of the most dangerous lines in the QMJHL, so give credit where credit’s due in relation to Byfield.
So, obviously, producing points isn’t an issue for Byfield, and it’s clear his offensive contributions were a leading factor as to why Sudbury was a contender in the OHL. But how will that translate over to the big leagues? According to Byron Bader’s HockeyProspecting NHLe tool, Byfield’s best draft comparison is Jason Spezza, and trust us, the similarities are interesting: Spezza went second overall in 2001, Byfield is projected to go No. 2 in 2020. Spezza’s draft-year NHLe was 46 compared to Byfield’s 45. Spezza was drafted at 6-foot-3 and 214 points, while Byfield stands at 6-foot-4 and 215. Both are big, strong centermen
Defensively, Byfield’s strong skating allows him to get back into the battle and he has the reach to poke the puck out of danger. He isn’t afraid to block shots, but his confidence in his own game and his determination to help his teammates out is special. I’d like to see him get a bit more aggressive in his own zone (watch a few Wolves games and you’ll notice he sometimes stands around and watches)
In short: the team that takes Byfield is getting a smart, two-way, physically capable center. Name an organization that wouldn’t want that type of player in the lineup – you can’t.
Jason Spezza, C, Toronto Maple Leafs