When Quinton Byfield got hit with a wrist injury in mid-February, the hockey scouting world collectively groaned as one of the top prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft was set to miss some time. This injury happened to come after his lacklustre performance at the World Juniors as a deep Team Canada buried him on the fourth line. Byfield’s injury certainly slowed his progress, and his exceptional return showed just how great of a player he could become. His ability to lead the team when he returned only demonstrates part of the potential he has for the future.
First Half of the Season:
Byfield started his season incredibly well as the expectations on him were immense. At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, he was undoubtedly among the most physically ready players in the draft, and his on-ice skills just added to that.
Byfield had 57 points in 30 games before Christmas, enough to get selected to Team Canada for the World Juniors. In Sudbury, he led his team in most offensive categories and saw ice-time on both sides of the special teams. When he received the nod for Team Canada, he was the youngest player to be selected for the team.
His World Junior performance was largely unremarkable as he was held to only one assist in the seven games of the tournament. Playing out of position, for what was the de facto fourth line, this performance was excusable, but Byfield had something to prove after he came back to Sudbury.
After the World Juniors, Byfield kept his scoring touch and had 32 goals by the time February rolled around. His athletic game made him the most dominant player in the OHL, but the worst thing possible to happen to an athletic player did – he got injured.
In what would be a tough night for Sudbury, the Wolves lost 5-2 to the Oshawa Generals and lost their star player and leading scorer in the first period. Byfield had a wrist injury and was unable to return to the game. Byfield missed six games, in an already shortened season for him and was forced to watch from the press box as his Wolves struggled. Already missing time from the World Juniors, Byfield’s numbers were sure to be limited as it was ambiguous how much time he would lose.
Late Season Comeback:
Byfield did not miss a step as he returned to action against the leading Ottawa 67’s. In this game, he had two assists but also helped hold the league-leading Ottawa 67’s off of the scoreboard, as they failed to score once against his struggling Sudbury Wolves. While injuries usually show problems with a young player’s game, Byfield’s injury only highlighted his stardom.
Unafraid to get back into the action, Byfield’s two-way game didn’t change after coming back from injury. This led to his team winning three straight from his return. In those three games, Byfield had four assists as his side battled hard for every contest and saw defensive improvement.
In what is the cliche story of the best two-way centre in the draft, there is increasingly essential subtext. Byfield is not only the most electric player in the OHL but has tremendous upside as well. Our writer Eddy Jones describes Byfield as:
“He is a true physical specimen and combines NHL level size with elite hockey sense that has tormented his peers in the OHL.”– Eddy Jones, The Hockey Writers
The extensive comparisons to Evgeni Malkin are fair, as Byfield’s two-way game and on-ice leadership are what set him apart from any other OHL player in the draft. If Marco Rossi is the better player right now, Byfield has the peak upside. His ability to lead a mediocre Sudbury team contrasts nicely with Rossi’s peaking on a star-team. If prospects are magic beans, Byfield is undoubtedly the biggest and among the shiniest, especially from the OHL.
With Byfield just 17 at the draft, he is showing leadership beyond his years. With his impact on the Sudbury Wolves clear, any NHL team would be lucky to have him, no matter where he gets drafted. What do you think about Byfield’s influence on the Wolves? Is he going to make an impact in the NHL next season? Contact us @TheHockeyWriter on Twitter, or in the comments below to discuss all things prospects or any other storylines you’d like to chat about!