The LA Kings have a dilemma every other team in the NHL would love to have. Quinton Byfield is the Kings center of the future, but where will he play now?
Quinton Byfield, the second overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, is penciled in as the LA Kings number one center of the future. What’s uncertain, however, is where is he going to play for the 2020-21 season? The options the Kings have are limited.
Byfield is 18 years old and has spent the last two seasons playing in the Ontario Hockey League for the Sudbury Wolves. The NHL has an agreement with the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), which is comprised of the Western Hockey League, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and the Ontario Hockey League, that states CHL players under the age of 20 must play in the NHL or the CHL – they cannot play in the AHL.
With this in mind and in a normal season, Byfield would probably be going back to Sudbury, as the LA Kings do not appear willing to burn a year of Byfield’s entry-level contract. This is not a normal season, however, and the Ontario Hockey League might not even play – so now what options do the Kings have?
If the Ontario Hockey League does not play, then the NHL/CHL agreement simply would not apply to Byfield. This would mean the Kings could assign him to the Ontario Regin of the American Hockey League – and that is the best option. While physically, he is already bigger than a majority of the players in the NHL, many feel he is not yet ready for a full-time role with the Kings.
He last played in the most recent World Junior Championship and had seven points in seven games – not bad, right? A closer look shows that six of those points came in one game against Switzerland, and if you take that game out, it leaves one point in six games. Point totals are far from everything, and Byfield was dominant on the forecheck and in the faceoff dot.
Still, Team Canada was loaded with talent, and let’s face it, they had an easy slate for most of their preliminary round, leading some to believe Byfield’s point totals should have been higher.
A season in the AHL with new Reign head coach John Wroblewski would do wonders for Quinton Byfield. Wroblewski was brought in after his stellar work with the US National Team Development Program and is renowned for his ability to get the best out of young players. This would be the ideal situation for Byfield as Wroblewski could build his confidence and get his game ready for the NHL, as another season in the OHL will do nothing to bolster Byfield’s development.
If the OHL comes back, the Kings have a tough decision. Byfield can play seven regular-season games with the Kings. Then they have to do one of the following:
A. Send him back to the OHL
B. Assign him to the taxi squad until OHL play opens up
C. Have him stay on the regular 23-man roster and burn that first year of his entry-level contract.
As noted, another season in the OHL will not bolster Byfield’s development as a player, so that eliminates option A. Option B gets him some practice time at the NHL level with the LA coaching staff, but if the OHL does return, that merely becomes a very temporary option. Even if the OHL does not play this season, I’m not big on Option B as a season-long solution as young players need to play in games to grow as a player.
This leaves Option C, which of these three is the best solution. If it’s a choice between playing against OHL or NHL competition, Byfield needs to be playing against the better competition, even if it means burning that first year of his ELC.
As a side note on the entry-level contracts in the Kings organization, it might actually make sense to burn the first year of Byfield’s ELC. With all the high-end prospects on the way, the Kings could eventually find themselves having multiple ELC’s end at the same time. If the big-name ELC’s are staggered, it could help give LA some precious cap certainty and flexibility.
Of course, if Quinton Byfield stays with the Kings, that means someone has to go. Anze Kopitar and Gabe Vilardi are locked in, so this season will be a battle for two center spots between Byfield, Blake Lizotte, Michael Amadio, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, and perhaps even Lias Andersson.
All of these players are solid, but if the further development of the number two overall pick is on the line, then Kings management will have a few difficult roster decisions to make. If Quinton Byfield cannot go to the AHL, he needs to play this season with the Kings.