With the end of the 2020-21 NHL regular season getting closer, it looks like the Los Angeles Kings will miss out on the playoffs once again. Fortunately for Kings fans, there’s still a lot to be excited about for the last 12 games of the season. With a plethora of young talent in the AHL, most fans have wanted to get a glimpse of these prospects with the big league’s roster. With debuts earlier in the season for forwards Arthur Kaliyev and Rasmus Kupari, fans have gotten a little taste of what’s to come. However, it is the team’s second overall pick, Quinton Byfield, that most are dying to see in a Kings jersey. According to Kings insider John Hoven, that wish will be coming true soon.
His NHL stint will likely be short — the team won’t want to burn a year of his entry-level contract (ELC) — but fans should still be getting excited to see a potential superstar make his NHL debut.
Byfield’s Season so Far
Byfield has had a fantastic season in the AHL, leading all 2002 birth-years in points with 19 in 28 games. These point totals are even more impressive when you consider his slow start to the season. His first seven games of professional hockey saw the center post just three points; however, he followed that up with a seven-game point streak. He has since scored a consistent 0.679 points per game so far this season. While his point totals for an 18-year-old are impressive, it is his overall play that should excite fans.
The Kings selected Byfield second overall because of his potential to completely take over games, and while he hasn’t done that consistently yet this season, he has shown glimpses of that ability in Ontario. It’s also important to remember just how young he is. He is not just an 18-year-old rookie playing professional hockey; he is an especially young rookie.
Being born on Aug. 19, 2002, he was barely eligible to be drafted in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Had he been born a month later, we would be talking about him as a prospect for the upcoming draft. With a great rookie campaign in the AHL so far, he has excited both fans and the Kings organization. He has made significant improvements to his game, specifically in his 200-foot game and his consistency. Many people consider the AHL a place where players “learn how to be professionals,” and that’s exactly what he has done.
Despite there being a lot to be excited about with Byfield, it’s important that Kings fans don’t expect too much from him at first. As I mentioned, he is still very young, and despite his massive potential, he still has a lot to learn. Don’t expect him to come in and be a point-per-game or dominant player right away. He may show flashes of that ability and have shifts where he completely takes over, but he shouldn’t be expected to do that consistently.
Kings’ fans have been spoiled, in a sense, with debuts recently — both Kaliyev and Gabe Vilardi scored on their NHL debuts, and even further back, Anze Kopitar scored twice in his debut with the Kings. It is important to remember that instant success like that isn’t always the norm. Byfield is far from a finished product — he was the most unrefined talent of the top three players drafted in 2020, and that must be kept in mind. He will be an elite player for the Kings, just not yet. Expect him to play well in his debut but be realistic about it as well.
Where He Slots In
I imagine the Kings will opt to ease Byfield into the NHL during his debut. He will likely center either the third or fourth line to start and might land a spot on the power play. This would be like how the team utilized both Kaliyev and Kupari in their respective debuts. With those two players, we saw that coach Todd McLellan is willing to increase ice time based on performance level. So, if Byfield is playing well, we may see him earn an increased role. I think this is a great way to debut him without adding too much pressure or expectations. In the bottom six, I would expect him to still play his game. He’ll still look to make great use of his size and hands in tight to create offense. The Kings likely plan on him playing most of next season on the NHL roster, and this short stint with the team should do wonders for his development.
Time to Get Excited, Kings Fans
Very soon, the Kings’ biggest prospect will suit up in his first NHL game, and fans should be ecstatic for that. While it’s important to keep expectations reasonable, it’s also okay to let the hype train pick up speed for Byfield’s debut.