Quinton Byfield planned on getting a new bow tie.
"At the end of the season I was going to grab a nice suit, nice bow tie, something special for the draft," the Sudbury Wolves centre said.
But the end of the season came a lot sooner than Byfield or anyone else in major junior hockey expected. With the world still coming to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian Hockey League cancelled its playoffs last week, meaning the Memorial Cup will not be awarded for the first time ever.
The NHL also postponed the entry draft, scheduled for June 26-27 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, where Byfield was expected to be among the first players picked. It's unclear when and how the draft will be held. That means the moment Byfield has anticipated his entire hockey life may play out differently than he dreamed.
"It'd definitely be a little disappointing," he said. "You always think about that as a kid, going up to the stage after getting your name called, going to shake the commissioner's hand and all the people up there who drafted you, so it'd be disappointing. But just being drafted, no matter where it is, is something special and something you've worked toward your whole life. It's a little disappointing, but still all exciting for me."
And the 17-year-old can still wear a bow tie whenever the day arrives.
"I think I have over 30," he said. "I just kind of liked being different and everyone wears ties, so I just started getting into bow ties. It started when I was young, probably minor atom around when I first got to York-Simcoe Express. I have a lot, but my go-to one is still the black one, because it goes with everything. I don't know, I just like that one and it was my first one too, just a solid look."
Byfield doesn't just stand out with his fashion sense. At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, the Newmarket, Ont., native has a rare blend of size, skill and speed. It's a tantalizing package that allowed him to produce 32 goals and 82 points in 45 Ontario Hockey League games this season, while also cracking Team Canada's roster at the World Juniors.
TSN spoke with Byfield via FaceTime from his family home and got his take on possible NHL landing spots like Ottawa, Detroit and Los Angeles.
Byfield, who finished third in TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s latest draft rankings, also outlined his plan to improve his skating and diet during the off-season with the help of former NHLer Gary Roberts. Plus, Byfield explained why his favourite current NHL player is a defenceman.
The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
How confident are you that you can make the jump to the NHL next season? How optimistic?
"I'm very optimistic and confident that I can definitely make the step next year. I was blessed with a big body, big frame, which definitely helps me out a lot and then a good skating ability, so I think I can definitely keep up with them and hopefully make a mark next year.
With no playoffs there's no chance to make a final on-ice impression on scouts and the hockey world about your draft status. So, we'll give you a chance to make a closing statement. If a team picks you, what kind of player are they getting?
"Definitely disappointing not having playoffs. I think we had a really good shot this year. We finished first in our division, second in the conference, so we would've had home-ice advantage and all that. But, for teams that may draft me, I'm a big two-way centre with a big offensive upside. I hate losing puck battles. I'm very competitive in the corners, take my defensive zone very seriously. The coach trusts me in D-zone, last minute of play, PK, all that, and power play. I try to be a go-to guy in every situation."
Where did you improve the most this season?
"Probably my skating and 200-foot game. Last off-season I worked on my skating a lot. I kind of skated with a hunchback, so I'm working on keeping my chest up more and using my long legs for better strides – more powerful, effective strides. And then my two-way game, just playing all 200 feet of the ice, all three zones. [Sudbury head coach] Cory Stillman definitely helped me with that a lot, [associate coach] Darryl Moxam and (assistant coach) Zack Stortini, new to the scene, they all definitely helped me out by showing me clips of good things or bad things I can work on and improve on."
With your skating, is the hunchback gone?
"I wouldn't say it's officially gone, but we're getting there, for sure. I was working with [power skating expert] Tara McKay in the summer and we did a couple sessions every week and then Gary Roberts helped me with that too, you know, just doing workouts, fixing my posture, getting stronger down low and working on the power and explosiveness."
What will be your focus this off-season?
"I'm going to be focused on getting bigger and stronger. If I really want to make that next step to the NHL next year, I need to get a little more muscle to me and a little more weight. If I'm playing against men next year, that would definitely be a big step and definitely want to improve upon that. And my eating habits as well, [smile] they're not the greatest, so need to improve on that."
What do you have to change when it comes to your diet?
"Cutting out all the good stuff, I guess [chuckle], all the chocolate and sugars like that. It's okay to have that once in a while, but I think every so often I have too much, so definitely have to cut down that and just eat more things that are better for my body that will help me gain muscle, keep my energy and all that."
What does an average day look like for you right now?
"I'll wake up around 10:30, 11 and then go down and grab a quick bite to eat and then go on a morning run around my neighbourhood and then get back and do a little workout downstairs in my basement. Then eat lunch, and just chill around in my room, I guess. I'll play PS4 a bit, listen to music, all that good stuff and play games with my family, watch movies with them too."
What are you guys watching these days?
"I actually missed the one last night, only caught a bit of it, it was Parasite. They were watching that one, so I'll probably catch up and watch that tonight."
What do your workouts look like?
"My aunt gave me a punching bag. Then some family friends gave me some weights to use, so I have those and a yoga mat down there. I made a ladder; I taped a ladder to the ground. Then Gary Roberts [High Performance Training], they sent me some workouts I could be doing, gave me a little plan to work out with, so I've been following along with that."
What was your favourite moment of the season?
"The one I'm going to remember is definitely the World Junior gold medal, for sure. That was super special for me, just to be there so young. Not many 17-year-olds will have a gold medal and it was an honour just to be there with all those great players. And with the Sudbury Wolves, there's been a couple [moments], a couple close games, nice rivalries we had. As the season ended, we got a good rivalry going with Barrie. We had a game with a playoff intensity, and I scored the OT winner there and the game-tying goal, so that was definitely a big moment in the season for me. It was a lot of fun to play in that game and makes you miss playoffs even more."
What did you learn from the World Junior experience?
"The Hunters [GM Mark and coach Dale] are both great hockey minds, so I just tried to take everything I could from those two guys and they coach like pros. Hopefully I can step onto the scene next year or very soon, and to have that experience behind me already is definitely going to help. And playing with a couple pro players in Joe Veleno and Barrett Hayton, just trying to take tips from them and how they carry themselves on and off the ice, their attitude and all that, just taking notes from those guys helped."
What were your favourite teams growing up?
"It used to be Pittsburgh when I was little and that's why I chose No. 55, because of Sergei Gonchar. Then I started watching Tampa Bay and Marty St. Louis, who was my favourite player of all-time probably, and started liking them when they weren't in their peak, so I'm not a bandwagon guy [smiles] I've liked them or a long time."
You liked Gonchar? How did that happen?
"I used to be a defenceman when I was little, from four to seven or eight. I used to play defence and Gonchar was my guy."
And St. Louis, why did you like him?
"I liked St. Louis, because he was never the biggest guy by any means. He was probably always the smallest guy on the ice, but he was always the first into battles. He seemed like a good leader, a good guy off the ice. His connection with [Steven] Stamkos was something to watch as well. He was just an all-around guy, skill, a grinder too, and you mix in everything, it was just a lot of fun to watch him play."
In the Hockey Canada media guide at the World Juniors you had Maple Leafs winger William Nylander listed as your favourite current player, is that still the case?
"No, it's not anymore. But he definitely was. I watched him in the World Juniors when he played in Toronto and liked watching him play, so he was my favourite for a bit. He's an exceptional skater and the poise he had with the puck; he can just hold onto it forever. It feels like he can get by anybody with his speed and his skill and he's just very creative with the goals he scores and everything."
Who's your favourite player now?
"I like watching the young, rookie D. I'd say probably Cale Makar. I'm all over the map [smile], I know, but I just like watching him. You haven't seen a player like that for a while, just his skating and what he can do. He's the quarterback back there for Colorado and that team is just exceptionally gifted with all the skill they have and then he's just back there running it all. His skating is just incredible."
Which current NHL player is most like you?
"I'm not sure. I definitely hear a lot of comparisons to Evgeni Malkin and that's an honour. He's going to be a Hall of Famer one day, and those comparisons are something I'm thankful for and grateful for. I'm not sure really who compares to my game, but if I had to say I guess I'm definitely closest to Malkin. He plays a 200-foot game, great offensively, he's a big, strong centre as well."
Thoughts on Quinton Byfield. The Evgeni Malkin clone has the great combination of skill, size & power and continues to push his game to higher levels. He has so much high end potential. @Sudbury_Wolves #2020NHLDraft 3/6— Craig Button (@CraigJButton) August 12, 2019
I'm sure you've been thinking about who might draft you, so let me know what you think about some of these landing spots. You're from the Toronto area, but what do you think about being an Ottawa Senator?
"I'd be happy to go to Ottawa, for sure. Any team that drafts me I'll be happy to go to. That'd be close to home, which is great. I could get my family out there quite a bit and all my friends could make the trip as well so Ottawa would be a good landing spot for sure."
How about joining your World Junior teammate Joe Veleno in Detroit?
"That'd be a lot of fun. That's another spot close to home as well and I met a couple of those prospects, Veleno and (Jared) McIsaac is on the come up as well, so that'd be a lot of fun to play with them in the future."
It's not close to home, but how would you feel about the Hollywood lifestyle: Los Angeles or Anaheim?
"Oh, I'd definitely blend in there, for sure. I'd definitely be a Hollywood guy [smile]. I'm suited to that lifestyle. I like the winter so I'd miss that a bit, but just chilling on a beach all day would not be bad at all. These are all definitely good landing spots."