Wolves forward Quinton Byfield ready for big year ahead of 2020 NHL draft

CALGARY — Quinton Byfield is a bow-tie man.

The Sudbury Wolves forward collects them.

“Probably own 20 and funky ones too,” he said.

Byfield might push the sartorial envelope at the 2020 NHL draft in Montreal.

“I’ll probably get a special one for that,” he predicted.

The Canadian Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League rookie of the year this past season will likely model that bow tie on the Bell Centre stage in the first round of the draft.

Gifted hands on a six-foot-five, 214-pound frame at age 16 — he turns 17 on Aug. 19 — powered by a high-revving engine, Byfield will be a sought-after prospect by NHL teams.

“He’s a good player that’s only going to get better,” Wolves head coach Cory Stillman said. “There’s a high ceiling for Quinton.

“He has the possibility to play, because of his size, because of his strength, in the NHL at 18.”

The centre from Newmarket, Ont., was among 22 players named Tuesday to the Canadian men’s under-18 team competing Aug. 5-10 in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Breclav, Czech Republic, and Piestany, Slovakia.

In 28 years of the annual summer tournament, Canada has won 22 gold.

“I haven’t been overseas,” Byfield said. “It would definitely be a special experience. It’s definitely an honour.

“When I was little, I always watched the world juniors. The under-17 and under-18 teams are stepping stones towards that. I would look up to all those guys.”

His prodigious offensive skills made Byfield the No. 1 pick in the 2018 OHL draft by the Wolves, but there was a reckoning upon his arrival in Sudbury.

“When he played midget, he had the puck, and if he didn’t have it, he just went and got it,” said Stillman, a former NHL forward and two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes.

“Early in the year, when he didn’t have the puck, he wanted to chase it. In junior hockey, if you’re out of position, someone’s going to make a pass to your guy.

“Once he realized he should slow down, wait for it, and then attack and go get the puck, he got back into having it more.”

At 16, Byfield was an integral piece in Sudbury’s 48-point turnaround with 29 goals and 32 assists in 64 games, followed by three goals and five assists in eight playoff games.

“Right at the start, if we were down a goal and we pulled the goalie, he went out and played on the back end to run plays off as a 16-year-old,” Stillman said.

“As the season went on, and we got into playoffs, if their goalie was pulled, I had enough confidence that he could play in an odd-man situation to win the hockey game also.”

Nobody in Byfield’s family plays hockey. His father Clinton emigrated from Jamaica. His mother Nicole took him public skating as a youngster.

“I started playing hockey when I was three or four,” Byfield said. ”I really fell in love with the game playing house league hockey.

“When I was younger, on Saturday nights, I’d also go over to my opa and oma, my grandparents’ house, and watch the (Toronto) Maple Leafs play with my opa. That’s where I also fell in love with the game.”

Byfield’s favourite team growing up, however, was the Lightning. His favourite player was Martin St. Louis, a five-foot-eight player who won the NHL’s scoring race in 2004.

“He was the smallest guy, but he was still first on the puck and competing everywhere,” Byfield explains. “That’s what I really loved about his game and I try to do that.”

Said Stillman: “As big as Quinton is, his engine, his motor, his legs, he’s on all the time. For six-foot-five, he skates very well.”

Byfield trains with former NHL forward Gary Roberts building muscle to keep up with his growing frame.

“It’s a lot about the food you eat as well,” Byfield said. “Everyone is training. It’s nutrition that really separates you. He’s got me on a really good nutrition plan. I’m eating healthy and I think that’s translated to a lot of my success.”

The major junior season before the NHL draft is a hectic one for any highly-ranked prospect. An invitation to Canada’s under-20 selection camp in December for the world junior championship is a possibility for Byfield.

There’s the top prospects game, the Canada-Russia series, the NHL combine and the constant scrutiny of scouts dissecting his game.

Byfield says he’s ready for it.

“I’ve been training my whole life for this,” he said. “You work your whole life to hopefully one day get drafted to the NHL and make an NHL team. That’s every kid’s dream.”

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