If you want to know more about Quinton Byfield, you only need to ask around Sudbury, Ontario.
The 18-year-old consensus top three pick in this year’s NHL Draft originally hails from Newmarket, but after two years as a superstar forward in the Nickel City, Byfield has left an indelible impression on those who have gotten to know him.
“He’s just a humble kid”, said Sudbury Wolves GM Rob Papineau, “In our opinion, he was the best player in the Ontario Hockey League this year, and he doesn’t walk around like that. He’s just one of the guys, he gets along with his teammates, and he just loves playing”.
The process for picking first overall in the OHL is different from the rest of the draft. The pick is made in advance, which allows the team in question to bring the player and their family up for a visit. The Wolves did this, of course, when selecting Byfield first overall in 2018, and Papineau — a former Carolina Hurricanes scout — soon began to realize that their newest acquisition not only had world-class skill, but world-class character.
“It’s rare from this generation, but a week or two later I got a ‘thank you’ card in the mail with a hand-written note from Quinton”, said Papineau, “Thanking me, not even for the way I treated him, but the way I treated his family”.
“He’s the real deal, and whoever gets him is going to be extremely lucky”.
When he arrived in Sudbury, Byfield was taken in by Rick and Mandy Waugh, and his billet family points to the budding star’s parents as the key factor behind his down-to-earth personality.
“He was raised very well by his family. His family deserves lots of credit”, Rick explained, “He’s a high-end character kid, very respectful, and a pleasure to be around off the ice. They’re just really grounded people”.
Waugh paints a picture of the top prospect that may surprise some. While he admitted that there can be some stereotypical cockiness among junior hockey players, Byfield certainly doesn’t fit that mould. He’s a young man who scrapes his plate after dinner, rather than expecting the world on a silver platter.
It’s a presence that Byfield exudes, even to members of local media. Rick Wyman of CTV Northern Ontario has covered the Wolves for 28 years, and served as their PA announcer for the last seven. The veteran broadcaster has lost track of how many times he’s spoken to Byfield over his two seasons in Sudbury, comparing him favourably to the likes of former Wolves players and NHL captains Mike Fisher and Derek MacKenzie, based on his level of humility.
“The thing is, he’s always talking about the need to improve”, Wyman said, “He feels he needs to improve on his skating, and I said ‘You can accelerate pretty quickly’, but he says ‘I still have a lot to learn, and I’m going to get better at it’”.
The hunger to hone his craft and become the best hockey player he can be is something that Rick Waugh also noted in Byfield.
“I remember a game where he made a blind backhand pass around the blue line”, Waugh recalled, “It got picked off, and the guy went in and scored, then [Byfield] wasn’t on the ice for about three or four minutes”.
“And then when he went back out, he scored the tying goal, and the winning goal”.
Byfield’s mentality is impressive, of course, but he’s regarded this highly because of his ability. At 6’4” and 215 lbs, Byfield is a force to be reckoned with, posting 143 points in 109 OHL games. He skates and stickhandles like a player half his size, and has the hockey sense to match.
“They call him I.Q.”, laughed Waugh.
When a player arrives with this level of hype, he’s bound to be compared to those who have come before him. In Byfield, Wyman sees some attributes that he remembers fondly both from former Wolves, and former Ottawa Senators alike.
“Mike Fisher was a very skilled player while with the Sudbury Wolves. People were raving about him in junior, and they did the same thing with Quinton Byfield before he was drafted here”, said Wyman.
“I think he has more offensive upside than Mike did. Quinton has that dominant size and strength, you just had to be here last year to see the difference...all of a sudden he would be able to shift gears, and he would just take off like a rocket up the ice”.
Byfield’s GM offered a similar testament to his abilities.
“I think there’s some Kopitar in him, I think there’s some Malkin in him”, explained Papineau, “He’s got great speed, he’s such an elite skater”.
While there are no guarantees with NHL draft prospects, it seems fairly certain that Byfield will at least be an impact NHL player. The question that remains, however, is which spot he will be taken on October 6th. Alexis Lafrenière is the consensus number one choice, but there is some debate about whether Byfield or Tim Stützle should be taken by the Los Angeles Kings at number two.
For Papineau, there’s no debate to be had.
“Personally, I would pick him number one”, he said, “Compare him to Alexis Lafrenière, who’s an amazing player, but Quinton’s 10 months younger. I’m not looking at the player that’s going to be most ready this September. I’m looking at a player that could be my franchise centre for the next 15 years or so”.
“I believe that much in this kid”.
Fans of the Ottawa Senators who aren’t sold on Byfield, be it for reasons on or off the ice, would do well to take heed from those who know him best. The young man who may soon join a rebuilding Sens squad has all-world ability, and the character to match. Whether he’s leading by example on the ice, or giving back to the community off of it, you won’t find anyone between the Soo and North Bay with a negative thing to say about Quinton Byfield.
“If you don’t have the attitude, and you’re not willing to raise the bar, that won’t cut it”, Wyman added, “but that’s what he wants to do”.
Wyman believes that if the Senators are looking for their game breaking forward, they need not look any further.
“He’s going to be the guy that his coach taps on the shoulder and says ‘Go out and do it’”.