On Christmas Day, the 2021 World Junior Championship will commence. This is annually one of, if not the most popular event in the hockey world. One of the countries that takes this tournament the most seriously is Canada. Canada holds the record for the most gold medals in the tournament’s history and is the country where hockey is the most popular. Every year, new stars prove themselves on a huge stage during the World Juniors. This year could be Quinton Byfield’s opportunity to show off his skills to a large audience and his first opportunity to play a pivotal role for his home country.
2020 World Junior Championship
Byfield played for Canada in the 2020 World Juniors, but he played a very minor role on the team. He averaged 8:41 per game and finished the tournament with one point in seven games. He posted a plus/minus of minus-three and didn’t even get to play in a minute in the gold medal game.
Although Byfield won a gold medal in 2020, he will be looking for an increased role on the 2021 team. He was one of the youngest players on last year’s team, as he was one of the team’s four first-year NHL entry draft-eligible players. Despite his small role on the team, he did impress the team’s captain Barrett Hayton.
“It’s hard to believe he’s that young. Obviously, he looks like a man out there the way he shields the puck, protects the puck and the way he can take over a game is impressive. His hockey sense is something that’s not really talked out, but he has a great feel for the game.”Per TSN
This is great praise, however, Byfield will be looking to impress many more people in the 2021 World Juniors.
He’s an Elite Prospect
There’s no other way to say this – Byfield is an elite prospect. He was definitely the best choice for the second overall draft pick. Offensively, he is a beast who can even rival last year’s World Junior’s MVP and this year’s first overall draft selection, Alexis Lafrenière.
Byfield (18) is a year younger than Lafrenière (19). Byfield only turned 18 on Aug. 19, meaning his most recent season in the Canadian Hockey League was his age-17 season. In 2019-20, he posted a total of 82 points in just 45 games played for the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves, which is a 1.82 points per game (P/GP) ratio. Lafrenière’s age-17 season (2018-19) with Rimouski Oceanic witnessed him producing an incredible 105 points in 61 games played – a P/GP ratio of 1.72.
Lafrenière’s first time skating in the World Juniors came in the 2019 tournament hosted out of Vancouver-Victoria. This falls right in the middle of his age-17 season, and similarly to Byfield, he played poorly in his first World Juniors, posting one point in five games played. The following year he went on to become the tournament’s MVP. Considering Byfield had a better age-17 season than Lafrenière, it’s not crazy to think he could be one of the tournament’s top players in his second go-around.
A Lock to Make the Team
Byfield is a lock to make Team Canada. He’s one of the best prospects in the world and he was on last year’s gold medal-winning squad. He’s been participating in Canada’s training camp and has confirmed he’ll stay for the whole tournament.
“The situation is I’m going to stay [with Canada] and hopefully make the team. That’s the plan I talked about with [Kings general manager] Rob Blake, and I think that’s the best option for us. I’ll head over (to the Kings) after I’m done [with Canada].”Mike G. Morreale, NHL.com staff writer
Byfield is clearly committed to donning the Maple Leaf for Team Canada and has prioritized it over being at Los Angeles Kings’ training camp. Due to being a top prospect, a past member of a gold medal-winning team, and his commitment to playing, it’s safe to assume that Byfield will certainly be on Canada’s roster come opening night.
Big Size Advantage
Byfield has a big size advantage over most of the players competing in the World Juniors. Standing at 6-foot-4, he will tower over most of the players in the tournament. Strength and protecting the puck are big parts of his game, and he should be able to impose his will in the tournament. Many players with similar height to him have had immense success in the World Juniors.
Most recently, Jesse Puljujärvi (who is also 6-foot-4) led Finland to a gold medal victory in 2016 by leading the tournament in points with 17. Trailing right behind him was his 6-foot-5 teammate Patrik Laine, who finished third in points (13) and first in goals (7). Czechoslovakian forward Vladimir Ruzicka’s 34 points in the World Juniors are tied for sixth all-time – he stood at 6-foot-3. Finally, Canada’s all-time World Juniors point leader, Eric Lindros, stood at 6-foot-4.
Tall, skilled players have typically done very well in the World Juniors, as it is a U-20 tournament and many players have a hard time competing with players of this stature. Byfield fits this mold, and also adds lots of speed into the mix. The combination of speed and skill could prove lethal, as it has done so in many past World Juniors.
Byfield Could be a Difference Maker
Byfield has all of the tools to be a difference-maker for Team Canada in the 2021 World Junior Championships. He has size and tons of skill, which has proven to be very important in past tournaments. His career path has thus far had a similar outlook to Lafrenière’s – if this trend continues, he should be one of, if not the best Canadian player in the tournament.