With the Red Wings recovering from four straight losses and the odds of falling into the NHL Draft lottery for the third straight year increasing day by day, top-rated prospect Quinton Byfield of the Sudbury Wolves is looking like a more realistic choice on the team's wish list heading into the draft June 26-27, 2020 in Montreal.
Red Wings director of amateur scouting Kris Draper said he'll have traveled to see each of the top 15 draft prospects by the end of the month, including a trip to Rimouski, Quebec, to see Alexis Lafreniere, the consensus No. 1 pick and to Sweden to see the third- and fourth-ranked players, Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond.
Draper and the Red Wings' scouting staff already know about No. 2-ranked Byfield, a 6-4, 215-pound center who has been compared favorably to 10-time Stanley Cup champion Jean Beliveau (Canadiens), three-time Cup champ Evgeny Malkin (Penguins) and 50-goal scorer Leon Draisaitl (Oilers).
As a 16-year-old in the Ontario Hockey League last year, Byfield was named the top rookie among the 60 teams in the Canadian Hockey League after recording 61 points in 64 games and leading the Wolves to a 48-point improvement.
This year, the 17-year-old native of Newmarket, Ontario is first in scoring in the OHL, averaging more than two points per game with 27 points in 13 games.
"He's a 6-4 center with explosive speed and those are very difficult to find and guys you covet as franchise-type guys," said Wolves general manager Rob Papineau, who played for the OHL expansion Detroit Ambassadors in 1990-91.
"He's got an unbelievable motor. He always wants the puck, hunting the puck. He goes into traffic and has incredible skill to get in there and get out. He's also a little bit old school in his true love and passion for the game."
Byfield, who will make his only regular-season appearance in Windsor when the Wolves play the Spitfires Oct. 27 at 2 p.m. at the WFCU Centre, said he'll "make a push" to be the first overall pick but will "let the chips fall where they may."
He'll also try to become the first player in the franchise's 47-year history to be selected among the top two picks. The Red Wings selected Sudbury native and Wolves winger Mike Foligno with the third overall pick in 1979.
"Honestly, if Detroit picks me that would be awesome," Byfield said. "A lot of good players have gone through that organization like (Pavel) Datsyuk, (Nicklas) Lidstrom and (Steve) Yzerman. My favorite team is Tampa Bay, and Yzerman was the general manager there so that would be cool as well."
Dan Marr isn't surprised that Byfield knew the history of the Red Wings. Marr is the director of NHL Central Scouting, a league department with nearly 30 scouts watching more than 3,000 games this year to identify the best draft-eligible players.
"I was with Quinton at a media conference last week and he had seen my Jean Beliveau comparison," Marr said. "There aren't that many 17-year-olds who know who Jean Beliveau was. He was really humbled by it. He just tries to be the best player he can be. His style of play is infectious and he makes others around him better."
One of Byfield's mentors is Wolves coach Cory Stillman, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with Carolina and Tampa Bay and the sixth overall pick by Calgary in 1992.
"Cory knows what he is going through and what it takes to come out successful on the other side," Papineau said. "There's no question Quinton has bought in. He always wants to be on the ice and it's refreshing to watch.
"And it all starts at home. He has an incredible family and parents. He's so well grounded. There's no entitlement, no expectations. When you're raised in that environment, it doesn't surprise me to see how genuine he is."
Byfield's father is from Jamaica and his mom is from Ontario. As an African American playing in the OHL and living in the Sudbury community, Byfield feels there's room to grow in a mentorship role.
"I would like to be a role model for kids to look up to," Byfield said. "The game is for everyone."
For now though, Byfield will attempt to lead the Wolves to their first OHL title, and he's expected to receive a tryout with the Canadian junior team, which will compete at the world championships in the Czech Republic from Dec. 26-Jan. 5.
"I try not to pay attention to social media and the extra attention," Byfield said. "I've been playing hockey all my life and haven't worried about the NHL draft or the media. I just want to keep playing my game, help the team and see where it goes."
Top 2020 NHL Draft prospects
1. Alexis Lafreniere, winger, Rimouski
2. Quinton Byfield, center, Sudbury
3. Alexander Holtz, winger, Sweden
4. Lucas Raymond, winger, Sweden
5. Cole Perfetti, winger, Saginaw
6. Yaroslav Askarov, goalie, St. Petersburg
7. Jamie Drysdale, defenseman, Erie
8. Anton Lundell, center, Finland
9. Marco Rossi, center, Ottawa
10. Hendrix Lapierre, center, Chicoutimi
11. Justin Barron, defenseman, Halifax
12. Dylan Holloway, center, Wisconsin
13. Kaiden Guhle, defenseman, Prince Albert
14. Will Cuylle, winger, Windsor
15. Tim Stutzle, center, Mannheim
16. Braden Schneider, defenseman, Brandon
17. Jeremie Poirier, defenseman, Saint John
18. Jake Sanderson, defenseman, NTDP
19. Jean-Luc Foudy, center, Windsor
20. Justin Sourdif, winger, Vancouver
Source: Mike Morreale, NHL.com