Cracking that world junior roster is a dream come true for any OHL player. Getting the invite as a 17-year-old NHL Draft hopeful holds prestige on its own.
It’s a combination few top prospects get to experience, but this season, both Quinton Byfield and Jamie Drysdale get to share both achievements together. They won a gold medal with Team Canada over the holidays, and soon they’ll be lacing up for the Kubota CHL/NHL Top Prospects game as teammates once again, en route to the NHL Draft this June.
Goaltender Nico Daws of the Guelph Storm, a 19-year-old late bloomer, will also share in the experience of dressing for both events.
The two OHL skaters, ranked second and third among North American skaters respectively on the NHL Central Scouting Midterms, join the likes of Connor McDavid, Aaron Ekblad, John Tavares, and Tanner Pearson as highly touted NHL Draft eligibles that were invited to represent their country at the World Juniors before suiting up for the Top Prospects Game.
Ahead of puck drop at the World Juniors, Byfield spoke on the importance of sharing that experience with Drysdale:
“It’s definitely cool having another 17-year-old, or as they say here, another ‘kid’ I guess,” said the Sudbury Wolves forward. “Just to have him to talk to and to relate to while going through the same process is great. It’s definitely good that he’s here as well.”
Earlier this season, Director of NHL Central Scouting Dann Marr touched on the calibre of NHL talent coming out of the OHL leading up to the Draft in Montreal this summer:
“I don’t think the OHL has anything to be concerned about,” he stated. “There’s going to be a lot of quality prospects for the NHL Draft in the OHL this year. The quality of the players at all positions is good. There’s good depth to this year’s draft class.”
Marr described Byfield as someone who plays the game the correct way in every sense of the word, drawing comparisons to the late Montreal Canadiens Hall of Famer Jean Beliveau.
“This is a Beliveau in the making,” he said. “He deserves to be in the talk in the mix for the best player in the draft.”
Through 33 games with the Central Division-leading Wolves this season, Byfield has put up 25 goals and 38 assists for 63 points. He rounded out his rookie season as the winner of the Emms Family Trophy awarded to the OHL’s Rookie of the Year.
He was recently also named captain of Team Red for the upcoming Top Prospects game alongside Rimouski Oceanic forward Alexis Lafreniere, who will captain Team White.
With regards to thinking ahead about hearing his name called high at this summer’s NHL Draft, Byfield said he chooses not to fixate on the pressure that inevitably creeps in.
“I just try to put everything behind me,” he said. “Every year wasn’t my draft year, so I go in with the same mindset, and remember I’m just playing hockey and just loving the game. That’s really why I play. It definitely sits in my mind a bit, thinking about the draft, but not too much.”
When asked about whether or not he chose to think about it, Drysdale alluded to his inability to avoid thinking about it throughout the season.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it,” said the 17-year-old Erie Otters defenceman. “I think it’s always in the back of your head.”
Drysdale has registered seven goals and 28 assists for 35 points through the first 31 games of his second season in Erie. Last year he set a new club record for points by an Otters rookie defenceman with 40 (7-33–40).
Amid praises for highly touted prospects coming out of the OHL including Ryan O’Rourke of the Soo Greyhounds and the Saginaw Spirit’s Cole Perfetti, Marr has been impressed with what’s seen from Drysdale.
“He’s just shown that while he’s not the biggest guy, he can carry the load and get the job done,” said Marr. “He’s such a smart, smart, valuable player.
Ahead of the upcoming Top Prospects game and beyond that, en route to the big day in June, Drysdale commented on his personal goals:
“I just try to do what I can and prove all aspects of my game that I can control, and I think at the end of the day, that’s all it is, he said.
“It’s what I can control, what I can improve on, and what I can do to get my game to where I want it to be. I think that’s what I’m trying to do this year. Just build on what I’ve been doing.”
Byfield and Drysdale will join 15 other OHL players suiting up for the Kubota CHL/NHL Top Prospects game on Jan. 16 at Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre.