As talented and as special a player as he is, Quinton Byfield is not immune to committing the occasional boneheaded rookie mistake. Such was the case early in the 2018-19 OHL season when, with his Sudbury Wolves down a goal to the Barrie Colts in the third period, he made a beautiful blind pass that ended up on the stick of…the Colts’ Ryan Suzuki. Bad idea. Suzuki scored to put the Colts up by two, three nights after they had administered a 10-3 beating on Byfield’s team.
Talk about a welcome-to-the-OHL moment. And talk about typical for the Wolves, one of the most beleaguered squads in junior hockey history. But then something wonderful happened for the Wolves, who battled back to tie the score before Byfield made things right by swooping down the left side and firing a wrist shot to the top corner. Not that there was any doubt, but it gave a lot of people the sense that the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s OHL draft and a candidate for the same status in the 2020 NHL draft is going to be just fine.
And so continues the journey of discovery for the hockey world and Byfield. Both are still learning what this 16-year-old is capable of accomplishing. He’s already the biggest and best player on his team, but there is room to grow, both physically and in his game. That’s a scary prospect, considering he’s already 6-foot-4 and 214 pounds. Think Eric Lindros, but a better skater without the nasty streak. “I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was,” Byfield said. “I’m battling in the corners with 20-year-old guys and I’m winning a lot of those puck battles. I didn’t know I had that in me.”
That part of his game was always going to come, but it’s a pleasant surprise to see it emerge this early. Byfield and the Wolves are on a compressed schedule here. Whatever they accomplish will have to be done in the next two seasons because in all likelihood, Byfield will be in the NHL as soon as he’s drafted. His game is coming along well, but his character has always been at the forefront. Through his minor hockey years, he was constantly courted by teams in the powerful and monolithic Greater Toronto League, but Byfield stayed true to his roots in suburban Newmarket, electing to stay with the York Simcoe Express, where he led his team and the Eastern AAA League with 48 goals and 92 points last season. The only players in league history to be that productive as minor midgets were Steven Stamkos and Taylor Hall.
And when it came to playing junior, Byfield did not manipulate the draft process, declaring he would be happy to report to whatever team selected him. “He’s a special player,” said Wolves coach Cory Stillman. “And it starts in practice. He wants to be the best player on the ice every day, and he has elevated our practices just with his work ethic. And when you get into the games, he gets the puck and he makes everyone around him better. He controls the play of the game. When we’ve needed a set play, we put the puck on his stick and he has no problems deciding what is the right play at that time. He wanted to be the No. 1 pick, and he wants to be the best player.”
Surprisingly, Byfield does not have a deep hockey background. His father, Clinton, came to Canada from Jamaica as a young man and his mother, Nicole Kasper, was born to parents who immigrated to Canada from Germany with no hockey background or interest. Despite that, he’s managed to compile an eye-popping array of skills to go with his size. “Every day after school I would spend two or three hours in the driveway just stickhandling and shooting pucks and practicing my skills,” Byfield said. “Lots of games of road hockey, too. You have to make a lot of quick moves in those games, and that helped me a lot.”