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Usually in the days before the NHL draft, teams have a pretty good idea what’s going to take place with the teams in the top of the first round.
That isn’t the case this year with the first round of the annual crapshoot set for Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
Yes, Rimouski Océanic winger Alexis Lafrenière is the consensus No. 1 to go to the New York Rangers, but after that nobody is sure which way this draft might go.
Will the Los Angeles Kings take Quinton Byfield of the Sudbury Wolves or Tim Stuetzle of Mannheim in the German league with the No. 2 pick? The Ottawa Senators have already stated they’re going to take whichever top prospect the Kings don’t, so which is it going to be?
“Flip a coin,” a league executive said Thursday.
The sense among many NHL executives is that it’s difficult to predict which way the Kings will go.
The Senators would be pleased to get either player, but if it’s Byfield they’ll have a 6-4, 215-pound centre in the system who’s had no shortage of success in the OHL. He had 32 goals and 82 points in 45 games with the Wolves this season and those who have seen him say he’s a complete player at both ends of the ice.
“He’s still physically maturing, but he brings that compete level to the game and he’s already become a leader,” Dan Marr, the head of the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau, told Postmedia last month. “He helped improve the status of (Sudbury), he made others around him better and he continues to get better.
“There’s a lot of small forwards with speed, but it doesn’t stop them from (playing in the NHL), but when you can get a big guy that moves like that … Look at the teams that go far in the playoffs, they have one of those big core forwards with some speed and then you have to take in the consideration the skills he has. This is a kid that does some highlight-reel rushes up the ice.”
Marr loves Byfield’s compete level and the fact he works hard to earn the ice time he gets.
Byfield, who was born in Newmarket, is determined to make the next step. He suited up for Team Canada at the world junior championships last Christmas. He may not be able to make the transition to the NHL this season, but he’ll push for a spot.
He has had “many” Zoom meetings with the Kings and Senators, so even he’s not sure.
“They both went really well and I’m excited for whoever drafts me,” Byfield said last week on a conference call with reporters. “I will be excited to go to whichever team drafts me and call that my home team. I want to stay there as long as I can and make a career there.
“I don’t know if there’s a stronger connection (with Ottawa or L.A.), but they both went well and I’m just excited for the draft.”
Naturally, Byfield will be nervous to see where he goes on draft night.
“There’s definitely a lot of excitement and I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit because it’s a day I’ve been waiting for all my life. It’s definitely going to be a special day.”
Byfield is a special player, but Sudbury coach Cory Stillman, who was selected No. 6 overall by the Calgary Flames in 1992, doesn’t mind giving him the odd jab.
“Cory Stillman and I have talked about it quite a bit and he always lets me know that he was a high draft pick and he played over 1,000 games. He lets me know once or twice a day about that,” Byfield said with a smile. “He’s a really good guy to learn from and he’s a great coach.”
Craig Button, TSN’s director of scouting and a former NHL general manager, has a lot of respect for Byfield and compares him to Los Angeles all-star centre Anze Kopitar.
“His size is a such an important part of his game,” Button said. “Not only from a skill point of view, but from that ability to impact the game in all its areas. When you look at his skill level, it’s very good, but it’s the completeness of the effort. His competitiveness really stands out with his size, skating and determination to impact the game on the ice.
“We use the term 200-foot player and that’s where Quinton Byfield establishes himself. I see him as a No. 1, two-way centre in the mould of Anze Kopitar.”
If that’s what he turns out to be, he’ll make the Senators or Kings a better team.
And, of course, Byfield is pretty strong off the ice as well because he’s dressed for success. Button referred to him as Quinton “Bowtie” Byfield because that’s one of his signature styles when he arrives and leaves the rink.
He has a good collection of more than 30 at home.
“It started when I was younger,” Byfield said. “The longer ties kind of bugged me and I felt a little closed off in the neck so I just wanted to switch it up and be a little different so I went with the bow tie.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020