The center surpasses San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane (2009, Atlanta Thrashers) and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones (2013, Nashville Predators), each chosen at No. 4.
Byfield, in interviews leading up to the draft, said he embraced that plateau and wants to become a role model for players of color. He called his selection “definitely super special.”
“It means a lot to me, it’s something special,” Byfield said. “Being in the record books for anything is definitely super special, especially [since] my dad and my mom didn’t play hockey or have too much knowledge about that, so kind of just growing the game together. It just shows there’s a lot of opportunity for everyone in the world that you can play every sport and be successful in it.”
Kings vice president and general manager Rob Blake said “We’re proud to be adding him to our organization and look forward to the next stages on his development and a promising career in L.A.”
Blake said that though Byfield is proud of his draft-night accomplishment and its responsibility, he is focused on playing hockey.
“I think his agency is very up to date on everything that can take place with that with being a poster child for kids to follow now …” Blake said. “We’ll work closely with them. Quinton’s been very good in letting us know and his agent that his focus be on hockey. He’s very adamant about that, we support that 100 percent. That’s what got him to this place, and he’s going to continue to focus on that to be great for the Kings.”
Byfield led Sudbury in scoring and was 14th in the Ontario Hockey League with 82 points (32 goals, 50 assists) in 45 games. He won 51.9 percent of his face-offs (304-of-586) and had one assist in seven games for Canada, which won the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Several current and former NHL players hailed Byfield’s historic section as further proof of hockey’s growing diversity. They predicted his presence in the League will attract more Black youth to the game as fans and players.
“I think he was regarded by many, obviously, and backed it up with being the second-best player in the draft,” Kane said. “That’s impressive in itself for a player of color, especially with what’s transpired here of late within society and within our game. For him to become the highest-drafted Black player in NHL history, I think, is a pretty special accomplishment.”
Kane said that Byfield, as a Black player, “obviously has had some adversity growing up playing hockey and his skill set and talent was able to trump that, which I can relate to.”
Kane said he’s looking forward to meeting Byfield but said, “I don’t know if I’m looking forward to playing against him.
“He looks like a good player, big kid (6-foot-4, 215 pounds), he’s only going to get stronger as he gets older. He reminds me a lot of myself when I got drafted. He looks young … he definitely has room to grow, and that’s only going to make him more difficult to play against.”
Hockey Hall of Fame goalie Grant Fuhr, who was chosen No. 8 by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1981 draft, called Byfield’s selection “awesome.”
“I think it shows the diversity of the game,” Fuhr said. “Obviously, when it comes to the draft, you’re going to take the best player. Well, if a player of color is the best player, then it means the game is getting out to neighborhoods that it needs to get out to expose the game, and I think that’s fabulous for hockey.”
Karl Subban, father of New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Malcolm Subban and defenseman Jordan Subban, is a lifelong Sudbury fan because his family lived there after immigrating from Jamaica. He rejoiced over Byfield’s selection.
“Whenever you have a player like that who has the potential to go one, two or three and he looks like me and my boys? Wow,” Karl Subban said. “It’s good news all around, not only for the young man and his family, but for a lot of kids who share his dreams, share his hope and share his aspirations.”
If Byfield makes the Kings roster in 2020-21, he’ll become the seventh Black player in their history, joining Fuhr and forwards Anson Carter, Jarome Iginla, Nathan Lafayette, Mike Marson and Wayne Simmonds.
The Kings selected forward Akil Thomas in the second round (No. 51) of the 2018 NHL Draft, and forward Bokondji Imama played for the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate in Ontario, California, in 2019-20.
Byfield said he’s spoken with Thomas, who was his teammate with Canada, about the Kings and Los Angeles, and said he received congratulations via Twitter from Kane and Thomas.
“We were definitely close buddies there and hung out quite a bit. It would be cool to see him again and hopefully play with him one day, that would be something special,” Byfield said of Thomas. “He’s given me a bit of a rundown on L.A. and what to expect. I’m very excited for that. He’s had nothing but great words about the organization.”
Blake said the Kings won’t rush Byfield to the NHL next season, but didn’t rule out him playing for Los Angeles.
“Physically, I think he has the ability to step in and play in the NHL with his size and playing ability,” Blake said. “Now there’s a lot more that goes into it: The uncertainty on the amount of games, when we’re starting … what will happen in the OHL where he’s currently playing, the World Juniors, all of this has to come into account. I would say those players drafted in that type of level, there’s always a look at them to see if they project to be in the NHL as soon as next year.”