Kings Are Being Patient With Byfield Despite AHL Success

Quinton Byfield was drafted second overall by the Los Angeles Kings at the 2020 NHL Draft to add to an already impressive prospect pool. The reasons he was selected by the Kings are clear: he is an elite skater, has great stickhandling skills, and a phenomenal hockey IQ. He also boasts a large 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame, which allows him to control the game physically. He has been compared to captain Anze Kopitar, who he will be learning from once he gets called up to LA.

Quinton Byfield Sudbury Wolves
Quinton Byfield of the Sudbury Wolves (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Byfield had an impressive OHL season before he was drafted with 82 points in 45 games with the Sudbury Wolves in 2019-20. He is now with the Kings’ AHL affiliate, Ontario Reign.

Byfield’s Success Has Gone Hand in Hand With the Success of the Reign This Season

This season, the Reign have an 8-12-2 record, 18 points or a 0.409 points percentage. In 21 games, Byfield has six goals and 10 assists. Though both Byfield and the team have had an average season so far, their games have picked up of late.

The Reign started the season with an abysmal 1-10-2 record through their first 13 games. It is only recently that they have been able to put some wins together; over the last nine games, they are 7-2-0.

Byfield has shown a similar trend. During the Reign’s nine-game hot streak, he has posted five goals and four assists. He is on a seven-game point streak and recently put together a five-game goal streak. Before this stretch, he only had one AHL goal and six assists. If the Reign can continue to climb the standings, they can expect to see solid production from Byfield.

Byfield Is Looking Forward to Maximizing on His Future NHL Opportunities

Heading into last year’s draft, the top three selections were clear. Alexis Lafreniere was the consensus number one, and while Byfield and Tim Stutzle were widely considered the two next-best prospects, there was much debate about who would be selected second and who would drop to third.

Tim Stützle Ottawa Senators
Tim Stützle, Ottawa Senators, first NHL game Jan. 15, 2021 (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

I advocated for Byfield at second overall. His unique combination of size and skill doesn’t come around too often, and even if Byfield isn’t the best fit for the Kings positionally, the 2020 Draft was the only chance to select him, whereas trades and signings can be done down the road to fill positional needs.

Now, we are more than halfway through the season, and while Lafreniere and Stutzle are in the NHL, Byfield is still waiting for the call. Lafreniere has five goals and five assists this season, and Stutzle has six goals and 13 assists. While neither player has been dynamite, and their advanced stats are poor, they are still gaining NHL experience. It’s no wonder that Byfield is eager to join the club:

You definitely want to be in the NHL and as soon as you can get there…So you’re looking at guys that are in your draft year that are up there, knowing that you really want to be up there as well. So you definitely use that as motivation…Whenever I get my shot, I’m gonna make the most of it and try to stay up there.

Quinton Byfield ready to make most of shot in NHL, whenever it comes (Sportsnet, Mar. 17, 2021).

No matter when Byfield makes his NHL debut, we can expect fire in his game, given that he will be the last of the top three selections from his draft to play in the NHL. He should be further motivated by the competition within the organization at center. Though Byfield is considered the team’s long-term first-line center, he will have to fight for ice time once he is called up, as Kopitar is still the leader of the team, and Gabriel Vilardi and Jaret Anderson-Dolan are both taking up center positions.

Kings Are Taking Their Time With Byfield

What’s often forgotten about Byfield, considering his size and maturity level, is how young he is. He is one of the youngest players from his draft class, almost a full year younger than Lafreniere and about seven months younger than Stutzle.

Kings general manager Rob Blake has often talked about the importance of being patient with young players, not just the big names like Byfield and Alex Turcotte (another highly-anticipated Kings center prospect). Blake has made it clear that prospects will only stick around if they are ready to help the Kings win. Future projections and expectations will not earn any player a spot on the team, as demonstrated by Arthur Kaliyev’s standalone NHL debut earlier this season.

Aside from the contribution a player might make, it’s important to consider the repercussions of rushing a young player into the league and how it could take a toll on the organization’s rebuild. There are countless examples of subpar teams that rush their young, highly-touted prospects into the NHL to make their team better. However, instead of performing to expectations, these prospects become long-term busts. I’m not saying that would be the case if Byfield was promoted to LA, but it is something to keep in mind when determining how much he will play for the team moving forward.

While some have criticized the Kings for keeping their veterans when they have an arsenal of skilled prospects playing elsewhere, I think it’s the right move. Fans may want to see the Kings win now, but I wouldn’t want to jeopardize the team’s bright future for a slightly better team in the present. Besides, longtime Kings such as Kopitar and Dustin Brown still provide most of the team’s scoring for now. Though it may be difficult for those who are eager to see the recent struggles of the team finally pay off, patience today will improve the Kings of tomorrow.