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NHL Draft

2020 Draft: Byfield cherishing opportunity to be role model

Sudbury center can be highest chosen black player, wants to motivate others of color to try hockey

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Every Thursday, will look ahead to the 2020 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.

Quinton Byfield would relish the opportunity and responsibility of becoming the highest black player selected in the NHL Draft.

"That would be something special," the 17-year-old center of Sudbury in the Ontario Hockey League said. "Being top for something is always cool and being the top pick among players of color would definitely be something really special to me. 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."

Byfield is a projected top-three selection in the 2020 NHL Draft at Bell Centre in Montreal on June 26-27. Evander Kane (2009, Atlanta Thrashers) and Seth Jones (2013, Nashville Predators) are the highest-drafted black players, each chosen with the No. 4 pick. He said his goal is to be a role model for all young players of color looking to play the sport they love.

"I want to be someone they could look up to by being a respectful guy, someone who just goes in, plays his best game-in and game-out," Byfield said. "I'll always try to have a good game and be consistent. I'd like to pave a path for them."

Byfield can become the 12th black player chosen in the first round of the NHL Draft in the past 15 years, the most recent being defenseman K'Andre Miller (No. 22) by the New York Rangers in 2018. Growing up in Newmarket, Ontario, he said New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban was a player he admired.

"When he was in Montreal, I watched him a lot," Byfield said. "And not just on the ice, but off the ice he was always donating to charity and doing something for a good cause. He's a fun guy, living life how he wants."

Byfield (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) has been a driving force for Sudbury this season. He's eighth in the OHL in points (74) and tied for ninth in goals (32) in 40 games. Six of the seven players with more points than him have played more games; London center Connor McMichael (Washington Capitals) also has played 40.

"Quinton is special because of the way he can skate for a guy 6-foot-4 and the way he can make players around him a lot better," Sudbury coach and former NHL forward Cory Stillman said. "I can't answer whether or not he'll be playing in the NHL next season, but he's going to be a great NHL player once he's there."

Byfield, No. 2 in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters eligible for the 2020 draft, doesn't consider himself a physical player but one that's capable of protecting the puck and using his body to create offense.

"I don't really throw my body around too much or go out of my way to make a hit, but I'd say I'm a playmaker who sets up teammates quite a bit," Byfield said. "I like to find them first before I shoot."

Said Stillman: "Quinton isn't the most physical guy, but on the puck, yes, he's very determined and strong on the puck, very strong on his feet with quick hands. That's the physical side of his game that's different than a lot of other players."

In addition to his success with Sudbury, Byfield had one assist and four shots on goal while averaging 8:41 in ice time to help Canada win the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship. Though Byfield played much less of a role than he does with Sudbury, he said he felt he brought a lot positive energy to the locker room.

"I feel I have good character; I'm kind of a gel kid in the room," he said. "On the ice I bring a different dynamic because I'm a big center, and there's not too many of those with speed who play a 200-foot game. I kind of have a lot of tools to offer an NHL team."

Byfield played plenty of pick-up hockey as a kid; his mother, Nicole, taught him how to skate when he was 2 years old. He played defense until he was 8, when coaches began to figure out that a player of his size and skating ability might be better on offense.

"I think I've drawn comparisons to Evgeni Malkin, so that's a compliment for sure," Byfield said.

Byfield said he and his family are looking forward to the draft in Montreal.

"You work your whole life to be the best player you can be and just getting the opportunity to be drafted is something I've dreamt of as a kid," he said. "Hearing your name get called is something special."

Alexis Lafreniere, a teammate at World Juniors and the projected No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft, said Byfield is as good as advertised.

"He's a big guy who can move and this is pretty rare," Lafreniere said. "Offensively he can create a lot. I enjoyed practicing with him during the [WJC]. He'll have a bright future."



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