He has the respect of coaches, his town’s mayor, and a former NHL tough guy.
Now, 18-year-old Quinton Byfield has something else: the distinction of becoming the highest-drafted Black player in the NHL Entry Draft. He was picked number two overall by the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday.
“He’s a generational talent, a skilled player, just a great young man surrounded by a great family,” said Dave Haggith, president of York Simcoe Express, the minor hockey association in the region.
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“He’s a player who turned a lot of heads over the years.”
The six-foot-four, 214-pound centre was drafted first overall in 2018 by the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League. In his first season, Byfield scored 29 goals and 61 points in 64 games. He was the league’s rookie of the year.
His high NHL draft pick didn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has watched Byfield play.
“To see Quinton drafted number two has sent a ripple of excitement through the whole town,” said Newmarket Mayor John Taylor.
“Doing what he’s done against the odds, and I guarantee it’s against the odds in a sport that’s dominated by white players. I think it shows his grit.”
Another Black NHL player, Evander Kane of the San Jose Sharks, offered Byfield congratulations on his Twitter account. Kane was selected fourth overall in the 2009 NHL entry draft.
Georges Laraque, who is also Black and was drafted 31st overall by the Edmonton Oilers, was delighted to hear about Byfield’s success.
“This is awesome. He’s a role model for many, someone they’re going to look up to,” Laraque told Global News in an interview.
“The NHL is working hard to get minorities interested in playing in the NHL and Byfield is going to help.”
Scouting reports describe Byfield as a “powerful skater with breakaway speed”. Many who’ve watched him play said he has the potential to be among the top players in the league.
After his draft selection, Byfield appeared to embrace another responsibility.
“The league is doing a really good job with all the inclusivity … I think it would be really nice if I got involved with that and spread the positivity and just be a positive role model,” Byfield said.
Rob Papineau, general manager and vice president of the Sudbury Wolves, said Byfield will make a great NHL player.
“He is mature beyond his years. The Los Angeles Kings are getting an unbelievable player and an unbelievable person,” he said.