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Quinton Byfield: 2020 NHL Draft Prospect Profile; Best Prospect Other than Lafreniere ... or Better?

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Quinton Byfield is the #2 prospect for the 2020 draft and he may be closer to overtaking Lafreniere at the #1 spot than he is at falling to #3 or below.

2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The 2020 draft has been booked as the Lafreniere draft for a while. We said the same thing about the Nolan Patrick draft before Nico stole the #1 pick out from under him and has run away with it. Could this be another one of those cases? Is he deserving of #1 consideration? Or — like Kakko > Hughes — is it just talk in the blogosphere to get articles like this flowing? Let’s dig in.

Who is Quinton Byfield?

Quinton Byfield is an 6’4’’, 214lb center for the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL. An Ontario native of Jamaican descent, Byfield is generally agreed upon to be the #2 prospect in the 2020 draft behind only Alexis Lafreniere who we profiled yesterday.

Check out Scott Wheeler’s excellent feature on The Athletic ($) for more on the story of his rise. Here’s a taste of his unlikely beginings:

Byfield’s father, Clinton, is a Jamaican immigrant. His mother, Nicole, grew up in Keswick, Ont., in a family of three sisters and one brother who didn’t play hockey.

When she took Byfield skating for the first time at 2, it was simply as something to do, not because she planned on someday enrolling him in hockey.

But he just skated. He didn’t fall down. He didn’t cry.

From there, there was no turning back.

Wheeler goes on to explain that he does not come from money and his parents relied on sponsorships to afford the expensive world of upper-level minor hockey. Byfield was not from a hockey family. He was not from a typical hockey upbringing. But almost not long after his skates touched the ice for the first time, his natural physical gifts in the sport became undeniable. That article was written two years ago when Byfield was just 15.

So we’ve known about him for some time. And that made it unsurprising that he was able to produce almost a point per game as a 16-year old in the OHL and almost two points per game as a 17-year-old, according to Elite Prospects, leading his team both seasons. He is unquestionably a top-shelf prospect — that is not up for debate. In fact, depending on who you ask, Byfield is making a legitimate case for himself as the #1 overall pick. According to Pick224, this is how he matches up against unanimous #1 prospect, Alexis Lafreniere.

As you can see, Byfield’s estimated primary point rate (P1/e60) and his relative goal percentage (EV GF%Rel) are both actually higher than those of Lefreniere, and that’s despite being about 10 months younger. His primary point rate is also highest among this cohort.

Eyes have been on him for quite a while, not more than they are now leading up to the 2020 draft. And if you want some perspective for outside of this cohort, check how he compares to a couple recent #1 overall picks.

Byfield’s “Closest Comparables” include likely-MVP Leon Draisaitl at the top end and David Vyborn(?) at the bottom end. But his production and probability of becoming an NHLer and a star lands somewhere between that of Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. This is to say that he is top overall pick quality. Lafreniere may just be even moreso.

Where is Quinton Byfield Ranked?

Rankings are not everything and plenty can change between now and June. Still, they can provide a general idea as to whether a prospect is worth getting excited over. There is some reason to get excited for Robertson:

Interestingly, the only source that has him lower than #2 overall is the International Scouting Service. You’ll see some tweets or think pieces about Byfield as the #1 given his tremendous 2020 season, but he would’ve needed to blow Lafreniere out of the water to unseed him at the top overall spot that he’s held for years. While he’s done a phenomenal job this year, so has Lafreniere.

What Others Say about Quinton Byfield

The most common thing you’ll see said about Robertson is how impressed everyone is by his combination of size, speed, and ability. Future Considerations is a good part to start with this blunt and direct assessment of the situation.

At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, you wouldn’t expect a human being to be able to skate like the wind or change direction at the drop of a hat, but that’s exactly what Byfield is capable of and part of what makes him so enticing. His unique combination of balance, speed, power and edge work sets Byfield apart from your average player and puts him in the upper echelon of players for the draft.

You’ll see that as a common theme in quotes about him. But some take it even further, like Steve Kournianos did for The Draft Analyst:

Byfield is incredibly agile for his size, and he can evade pressure or create space without solely relying on his thick frame and long reach. Much like current NHL star Auston Matthews, Byfield can dictate the flow of a possession from the boards or behind the net, and linemates at every level seem to understand that it’s his job to facilitate playmaking off the cycle. Byfield, however, is exceptionally crafty with the puck, and goalies have to respect his powerful shot that he wires with pinpoint accuracy from anywhere inside the offensive zone. ... Byfield is an obvious physical presence but one who is able to dictate the terms over opponents without playing dirty or undisciplined. He is an effective backchecker and occasionally pressures on the forecheck, but it’s his ability to read plays and get that necessary extra step that helps him create turnovers before quickly transitioning the other way.

You’ll see a ton of things about his raw skillset, size, speed, and also a fair bit on his smarts. But, to show you one that somewhat refutes portions of the Kournianos report, this is what Scott Wheeler had to say in his mid-season rankings, between a bunch of nice things I’ve already said:

If I have one outstanding concern with Byfield’s game it’s his defensive play. There are little things like his faceoff ability (he’s 50 percent on draws this season, which normally translates to the mid-to-high 40s at the NHL level) and more pronounced things like his first couple of steps and the way they can contribute to him standing around instead of closing off on opposing players, as well as his tendency to misread plays. Otherwise, it’s all there.

A Little Video

It won’t be hard to find highlights for Byfield. Here’s one batch that I particularly liked.

Starting at about 6:25 you’ll see 3 consecutive plays that give you a good feel for his offensive anticipation. He knows where the most dangerous place on the ice is at any given point and knows how to take advantage. Also about 40 seconds into the highlights you get some razzle-dazzle. At 4:00 and 5:50 you’ll see two examples of how he combines his anticipation with speed to outrun the camera and capitalize on a breakaway chance.

Here’s one more and then I’ll let you browse YouTube for your own endless highlights of the kid.

In the first video I pointed to a few finishes from him, so check out some playmaking highlihgts in this one. At 0:50 of this one you can see back-to-back assists and in the first one he uses his body to set a drop pass and pick all at once to set up his teammate in the slot. Then at 2:50 you can see him beat his man around the corner and then set up a beautiful chance. Finding a prospect that can do both of those things is very rare.

An Opinion of Sorts

I think Byfield is rightly positioned as the #2 overall prospect. I think there are indications that he may be stronger analytically even than Lafreniere and being almost a full year younger also adds a little more to the top end of his projection. But ultimately, Lafreniere has a larger body of elite work to draw upon. If the only season they had was 2020, it might be close. But Lafreniere was in the ‘Q’ 2 seasons ago ... as a 15-year-old, and he STILL averaged 1.25 points per game.

So despite the provocative title, this isn’t an article designed to tell you we should consider ranking Byfield over Lafreniere. This article is to tell you that if the Devils win the 2nd spot in the lottery, the reaction shouldn’t be “crap, we could have had Lafreniere” it should be “AWESOME, we get Byfield!” He’s a transformative prospect with potential just about as high as it gets.

Your Take

What do you guys think of Byfield? Are there any daredevils willing to place him over Alexis? Any haters that don’t think he deserves the #2 spot? Is anyone in the “we don’t need another center” camp?

Thanks for reading and leave your thoughts in the comments below.