Moving along with the Los Angeles Kings prospect preview series, I’ll be discussing Quinton Byfield today. The former 2020 second overall pick is heading into a pivotal sophomore season, as the Kings look to continue taking steps towards becoming a Stanley Cup contender again.
Byfield’s 2021-22 Season
Byfield’s 2021-22 season didn’t go as planned and was stunted before it started. Heading into training camp, there were questions surrounding where he would start the season, in the NHL, or back to the American Hockey League (AHL). After a strong training camp and some impressive performances in the preseason, he was penciled into the NHL roster. Unfortunately, in one of the Kings’ final preseason games, he fell awkwardly into the boards and fractured his ankle. He ended up missing two months and returned to the AHL in December.
The Kings started Byfield in the AHL with the Ontario Reign, hoping to get him back up to game speed. He didn’t get off to a hot start in his return to play, grabbing zero points in his first five games, causing some concern amongst fans. After six points in his next six games, those concerns were put to rest and earned him a call-up to the NHL.
Byfield was thrust into a bottom-six center role and struggled to find consistent offense. He played with a few different wingers before coach Todd McLellan settled on a high-profile line consisting of three first-round picks, Gabe Vilardi, Byfield and Rasmus Kupari. The line showed flashes of brilliance but was never consistent enough to force McLellan to increase their ice time, as they often played fourth-line minutes.
Byfield finished the season with 10 points in 40 games, to the disappointment of many fans. I find it hard to put too much blame on him though. A fractured ankle is devastating for a player like Byfield, who relies so heavily on his feet to generate offense. He was also not put in the best position to produce as he was a victim of the Kings wanting to be a competitive team last season, leaving little room for error for young players. A lot of his struggles were normal growing pains, but he was not given the opportunities to work through them. Compare that to his fellow 2020 Draft pick, Tim Stutzle, and it contextualizes his struggles, as he unquestionably had a better season but was also put in a better spot to succeed.
Stutzle’s 18:25 average time on ice was six minutes more per night than Byfield’s. He also scored 26 of his 58 points on the power play, as he was given a prominent role on the man advantage, unlike Byfield. Byfield was also the superior player defensively. Again, Stutzle was absolutely better last season, but when discussing Byfield’s lack of offense, especially compared to his peers, the context of their roles has to be discussed.
2022-23 Season Preview
Assuming Byfield returns to the third line this season centering Alex Iafallo and Arthur Kaliyev, I would expect a big step up in production from him. Iafallo and Kaliyev are strong linemates, giving him a defensively solid forechecker and finisher on either side. The biggest question for me will be what his power play time looks like. If he is sparsely used on the man advantage again, it will drastically impact how many points he can collect. In that third-line role, he’ll continue to be a solid defensive player, and should see his offense increase. He needs to improve in the faceoff circle, but that should come with increased strength. I doubt he reaches his ceiling this season, but he should ascend toward it.
Expectations for Byfield in 2022-23
Assuming Byfield is on the third line with second-unit power play time, I would expect him to put up around 40 points. I’m okay with his lackluster production last season, given the injury and minimal ice time, but this season he has to produce more. Fortunately, a lot of his issues should sort themselves out with more game time. His biggest one is his processing and ability to keep up with the game mentally. With more experience, he should get more comfortable and fix these problems in time. His numbers will also be aided by more productive linemates. Playing with someone like Kaliyev, who is poised for a big season, should be a massive benefit for him.
Byfield’s Potential Needs to Become Production
Byfield was drafted as a high-ceiling, low-floor prospect who was going to take a while to fully develop. He is still on that longer development track and he doesn’t need to be an NHL number one center yet, but he needs to improve. Much of this season’s success will rely on the Kings’ prospects stepping up, and he is at the center of that. If he can be a half-a-point-per-game, defensively solid, third-line center, that will be a strong season for him.
My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan I’m hoping to bring my own unique perspective on the hockey world, specifically covering the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020 I’ve joined The Hockey Writers crew as a columnist for the Kings.