Quinton Byfield’s debut with the LA Kings looks imminent, and the former second-overall pick is ready to prove he’s an every situation player.
Called up to the team’s taxi squad on Monday, Quinton Byfield appears to be close to making his NHL debut. The LA Kings drafted Byfield with the second-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and he’s been able to play at the AHL level this season with the OHL’s plans in flux.
The OHL season has since been scrapped, which eliminated all questions about what the Kings were going to do with Byfield and Arthur Kaliyev when Sudbury and Hamilton began their seasons, respectively.
In such a unique season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Byfield playing at the AHL level with the Ontario Reign could end up accelerating his development, as he will not have to go through these growing pains when things return to “normal” next season.
“I think it was definitely a good spot for me to be this year, with the OHL not playing,” Byfield noted on Tuesday. “There’s a lot of questions, a lot of debate up in the air. So you never knew if you’re gonna play hockey for a little bit. It was good to be on the ice, and I mean, a great group over there. I think it was key for my development.”
The Newmarket, Ontario, native was introduced to the Kings media for the first time since training camp on Tuesday, and he cited his two strong suits were his skating abilities for being a big guy and his vision. He joins an LA Kings prospect pool with a wealth of talented centermen prospects, but he obviously has the highest ceiling, given his draft position.
The Ontario Reign have a roster chock-full of youth, and it showed in the early goings of the 2021 season. While Byfield adjusted to life in professional hockey, the Reign won just one of the first 13 games the Kings prized prospect played in.
Over that span, Byfield amassed one goal, six assists, and a -15 rating.
“First half of the season, I wasn’t the greatest player, and then I kind of got more comfortable and more confidence and, you know, start to develop. So I think it helped me quite a bit over there,” Byfield said.
Over the next 17 games, Byfield’s confidence was visibly apparent on the ice. As a result, he was rewarded for it, tallying seven goals with six assists. More importantly, his plus/minus rating was a combined +5, with flip-flopping -4 and +4 ratings in back-to-back games against Bakersfield in March.
In his final three games before being called up, the 18-year-old tallied a goal with a combined +1 and 10 shots on goal.
Asked where he felt his game improved the most during his time with the Reign, the answer was quite simple.
“I’d have to say my defensive game,” Byfield noted without hesitation. “I think I’m just being a little bit more compact, a little bit more controlled. You know, not always just running around the ice just trying to get the puck back for my team, but I’m more just picking up my guy and stay in my spot.”
With 10 games remaining in the 2021 season, the Kings have three more games this week against the Ducks. Byfield’s impending debut has the potential to be a successful one, rather than being thrown into the fire against a team like the Colorado Avalanche, who the Kings still have to play four more times this season.
Byfield can play up to six games without burning a year off his entry-level contract. Regardless of how many games he sees with the Kings to close out 2021, he is getting a tremendous opportunity to watch and learn from one of the game’s best centerman in Anze Kopitar.