When the Los Angeles Kings selected him with the second overall pick in Tuesday night’s 2020 NHL Entry Draft, the newly-18 year old Quinton Byfield became the first Black player to be drafted second-overall. He’s now the highest selected Black player in NHL history. Previously Seth Jones (Nashville Predators, 2013) and Evander Kane (Atlanta Thrashers, 2009) both went fourth overall.
The National Hockey League was founded in 1917, but it wasn’t until 1957 that Willie O’Ree became the first Black player to make it to the big league. There wasn’t another black player until 1974.
The history of hockey itself is so tied up in a very specific kind of Canadian and American identities that it still informs the make up of the sport today, where around just five percent of the NHL’s players identify as people of color. That’s not to mention economic barriers to entry hockey has, and historically BIPOC face economic hardships at a higher rate than their white peers and are less likely to get assistance.
All of this is to say that the NHL still has a lot of work to do when it comes to catching up to the diversity of talent other major sports leagues are afforded in 2020. The league is reckoning with its place in society and whether or not they’re prepared to not only follow in the footsteps of other leagues, but be proactive toward meaningful change when it comes to the welfare of Black people in this country and Black athletes in their sport.
Byfield breaking barriers is part of that progress.
“I think it is definitely something special and I want to be the highest Black drafted in the NHL,” Byfield told The Athletic’s Ryan S. Clark. “I think that would be something really special. I think that it shows that having guys like Evander Kane and Seth Jones and P.K. Subban getting drafted and being impact players helped me growing up. It gave me the example that I could do it some day. Maybe I could see myself as a player. Now it is my time and my turn to take that role. It would be special to know that with this new generation that you could make an impact.”
In Los Angeles, Byfield will be joining forward prospect Akil Thomas, who was drafted in the second round (51st overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft. The pair were teammates on Team Canada’s 2020 World Juniors Gold Medal Championship team. Thomas has also been outspoken about diversity in the league and his experiences in hockey as a Black player. He currently co-hosts the Soul On Ice podcast and runs a clothing company influenced by his Barbadian heritage.
Congratulations to Quinton Byfield (@Byfield55) as he becomes the highest drafted Black player in @NHL history: First round, second overall by the @LAKings. Best of luck, brother! pic.twitter.com/Wi4fptPPvS— Soul On Ice The Podcast (@SOIThePodcast) October 7, 2020