While the NHL prepares to hold its first virtual draft, SB Nation’s hockey blogs have been doing our mock drafts virtually every year — though an email chain is easier to coordinate than a remote broadcast, so I guess we have that to our advantage.
In playing backseat general manager to the Los Angeles Kings, I didn’t want to overthink this pick. There are two main types of top-three picks: either the first two prospects could go either way, making third overall an almost certainty, or drafts like this, where the first overall seems so certain, it’s as if the first real choice of the draft gets made in the second overall pick.
Lesser GMs may talk themselves out of the right answer under that kind of pressure. Perhaps when the comparisons between the next two top prospects are Evgeni Malkin and Patrick Kane, you could see how one would get caught up in the specific differences of their skill-sets.
With the second pick in the SB Nation NHL mock draft, Jewels From The Crown is proud to select Quinton Byfield out of the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League.
Who is Byfield?
Quinton Byfield was the first overall pick of the 2018 OHL Draft after clowning on the AAA circuit in Toronto. During his rookie season, the 16-year-old center stepped in and was nearly a point-per-game player, notching 29 goals and 32 assists in 64 games. The 2019-20 season was primed and ready for Byfield to breakout and he delivered —
— that is, until World Juniors. His performance as the youngest player on Team Canada’s Gold Medal winning team was under a lot of scrutiny, and by the end of the tournament, he was playing on the team’s fourth line, when he played at all. He finished with just one assist, four penalty minutes and a minus-4 rating.
But when he returned to the Wolves, it was game on, and Byfield went on a tear, racking up 10 goals and 15 assists in 15 games before the OHL season was ultimately cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The thing about Byfield that I haven’t mentioned yet is that he’s huge. The 6-foot-4 center is compared to the aforementioned Malkin for a number of reasons, size not being the least of them. He isn’t limited by his size, however, using his massive stride to his advantage, as well as his body along the boards.
Byfield plays a fearless kind of game, weaving between opponents smartly and swiftly and his hands are truly incredible. He’s an exceptional, rare talent and would be the centerpiece of any team’s future.
Why not Byfield?
... Except people can’t seem to move past the 2020 World Juniors. And I get it — this was a huge opportunity for Byfield to show what he can do on the biggest stage those kids get and he didn’t show up the way Team Canada would’ve hoped. One has to question if his age is a factor, if being on the younger side of the prospect pool might lead to additional development time.
But it’s also clear that Byfield’s skill is beyond the OHL. Does that make Byfield a disappointing pick if he takes one year before reaching the NHL? That’s where it starts to feel like we’re over-thinking it, especially when it comes to the Kings, who as far as I know will still be dragging around Jonathan Quick’s corpse in net, and though the rest of the prospect pool is exciting, they’re still seasoning, too.
There’s the other thing that no one wants to bring up, but having read stories of racism in both the Canadian and United States national team programs, it’s hard for me to put a lot of weight into Byfield’s time with Team Canada. And who’s to say that his performance wouldn’t be viewed differently if he wasn’t of Jamaican descent — it feels easy to imagine the stories about how reassuring it is that he was able to play on the fourth line as a 17-year-old, doesn’t it? (Perhaps it’s also worth noting that Byfield would be making history as the highest-drafted Black player if selected at second or third overall).
Byfield is young, sure. But next season is going to be a weird one, anyway. Maybe taking this year to develop is kind of perfect timing for where the Kings are at right now.
So then, the question becomes ...
If we’re not over-thinking it, why is the answer Byfield?
In the simplest terms: Byfield is a complete player. He’s young, and that’s fine — the Kings can let him bake for a little bit longer because all of the ingredients are already in him. Undercooking is an easy fix, but adding ingredients after the fact is a whole different thing.
While his offense steals the show, Byfield is the real deal as a two-way player, a focal point of Kings hockey. Anze Kopitar won’t be with the Kings forever, but I can imagine what Byfield would learn from him in the meantime. And if the Kings select Byfield, I have no doubt he’ll be just as beloved.
Also: he wear bowties on game days. Totally adorable. Sign him to 13-year contract worth a billion dollars.