LOS ANGELES — On April 26, Los Angeles Kings center prospect Quinton Byfield was added to the taxi squad from the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League, giving fans some hope that he will get a shot at making his National Hockey League debut soon.
18-year-old Byfield, who was selected by the Kings in the first round (second overall) of the 2020 NHL Draft, started the season with the Reign because the Ontario Hockey League, where he would normally have been playing, if not for the COVID-19 pandemic, is not playing this season.
This season, after a bit of a slow start, Byfield has scored eight goals with twelve assists for 20 points in 30 games, with 22 penalty minutes and a -10 plus/minus rating.
As mentioned earlier, Byfield has been placed onto the taxi squad and is practicing with the Kings, meaning that he is now closer to getting a shot to make his NHL debut, and he’s getting that opportunity because of the Kings’ precarious playoff position—their chances of making the playoffs are on life support—and because he has earned it.
“I’ve been trying to fine tune my game, just being an every-situation player,” he said. “There’s quite a bit of elements that I still need to improve on. But I think my strong suits right now are my skating, for a big guy, and my vision out there. I like to, usually, find my teammates before I take the shot. But there’s a lot of improvements [ahead].”
Byfield credited Reign head coach John Wroblewski and the Kings development staff, for being a tremendous help for him and his development.
“I did quite a bit of video sessions with [them]. Offensive details, stick details—Wroblewski was huge on that, about keeping my stick on the ice and always being available. Another thing was communication, which got better over the season. That helped me.”
“Craig Johnson [Kings development staff] has been great all year,” he added. “He showed me power play clips, and what a bunch of the skilled guys do. We’d always work, after practice, on puck protection and stick details. That helped me quite a bit.”
Byfield added that his defensive play, something that is usually a fairly daunting challenge for young prospects, has come a long way.
“There’s been a little more contact, a little more control,” he noted. “I’m not always just running around, trying to get the puck back. It’s more picking up my guy, and staying in my spot, and trying to be in full support for the puck [when they get it back], and just always being open.”
Kings head coach Todd McLellan spoke of how hard Byfield has worked with the Reign and about his improvement.
“It’s one of the reasons why he’s here right now,” he said. “He has had a really good run at the American league level. He’s learned a lot about the pro game. The coaches [have done] a good job with him, to this point, down there, and he’s responded appropriately.”
“He’s up here this week, on the taxi squad,” he added. [The Reign don’t] play again, I believe, until the weekend.”
Actually, the Reign play at Colorado tonight and twice more on April 30 and May 1. But it seems clear that Byfield will not be re-joining them for those games.
“That’ll give him the chance to be around our team, the coaching staff, future teammates, and in particular, Anze [Kopitar], and absorb it all throughout the week,” McLellan noted. “Then, we’ll see, as time goes on, how and where he fits in.”
Even though they’ve only practiced together for two days, veteran star center Anze Kopitar has already had quite the impact on his young understudy.
“[The older plays are] unreal players,” said Byfield. “They’ve been in this league for a while, for multiple reasons. Just watching them in practice, to be on the ice with them—it’s incredible to see how he plays, how he sees the game, how he moves the puck, either on his forehand or backhand—he might be better on his backhand—wherever you give this guy the puck, he’s going to take it and make a play.”
“He came to me and talked to me, a bit, showing me the ropes, so he’s a great leader, as well,” added Byfield.
Should Byfield get into the lineup tonight against the Anaheim Ducks, or maybe after that, how might he handle the bigger stage?
“I think every individual is a little bit different,” said McLellan. “Most of the high-end prospects have been under scrutiny for years, and I would imagine that Quinton has been one of those who has been followed since he was a 16-year-old entering the OHL draft. He was the focal point at the World Juniors for a couple of seasons, so I’m not too sure that kind of scrutiny is going to throw him off when we do play him. Obviously, it won’t be in front of full buildings.”
LEAD PHOTO: Quinton Byfield, shown here during a game with the Sudbury Wolves during the 2019-20 season.
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