Amidst trade rumors surrounding Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Los Angeles Kings, many have speculated that the trade for the 25-year-old center out of Winnipeg was spurred by the lack of development surrounding former 2nd overall pick Quinton Byfield. The Kings have one of the deeper center cores in the league, with Kopitar and Danault headlining it, and they had envisioned Byfield to be that top-line center to take over from Kopitar once he dropped off.
This has not entirely gone to plan. Between slowly developing his game in the AHL and a broken ankle suffered during the preseason during the 2021-22 season, Byfield’s career has gotten off to a rocky start. In fact, last season, he only played 53 games in the NHL and 16 in the AHL due to a mixture of injury and illness that kept him out. There has been a good amount of concern about Byfield’s development being derailed, and it makes sense why fans and analysts alike are worried. While Tim Stützle put up 90 points last year, Byfield has only had 33 points in his entire career.
Despite this worrying start to his career, it is far too early to give up on the 20-year-old’s ability to become a star in the NHL. Here’s why.
In fall 2021, to start the 2021-22 season, Quinton Byfield suffered a broken ankle to begin his sophomore campaign. This past season, injury and illness kept Byfield out of the lineup again and put him in a spot where he had to recover just to feel normal.
Perhaps there could be questions raised about his health, but the fact of the matter is that Byfield was not able to hit the ground running in his NHL career. Dealing with a broken ankle is no joke, and yet he seems to have recovered just fine from it. In fact, there is a video on the LA Kings youtube channel that details his recovery.
Byfield has been healthy since the start of the 2023 calendar year, and he’s played well since. He’s always been projected to take his development slower due to his huge physical frame, so it’ll be some time before he reaches his ceiling; however, I am confident that he is on the right track to do so.
Played well on the top line
In January, Byfield was moved to the top line along with captain Anže Kopitar and Adrian Kempe. The line quickly became the Kings’ best. Kopitar and Kempe had cycled through wingers to complement their play throughout the season, ranging from Gabe Vilardi to Kevin Fiala, but no one fit quite as well as Byfield. He was able to elevate the play of that line to the next level, as they averaged 3.9 goals for per 60 and 1.4 goals against per 60. Without him, Kopitar and Kempe’s numbers dropped substantially to 2.2 goals for and 2.6 against per 60. There is absolutely no disagreeing with this fact; Byfield made that line better.
Additionally, the fact that he was put in a sink-or-swim environment and excelled goes to show how good Byfield is. Where most young players would ride shotgun along two stars, Byfield played to their level and even excelled it at times. Along with the fact that he was playing wing, this will allow Byfield to slowly adjust to top-line minutes, gaining experience with one of the best centers in the sport.
Defensively astounding, just can’t finish.
It’s not just Byfield that made that line better; in fact, playing with the Lady Byng winner has allowed Byfield’s game to elevate to a new level defensively. With him on the ice, the Kings allow 25% fewer expected goals.
This is the area for concern for the former 2nd-overall pick. He shot at a career-low shooting percentage of 4.1%, and that might cause some fans to worry about his ability to develop into an elite offensive talent, despite his defensive prowess. However, to quell your fears, let’s start by putting it out there that Byfield still excels as a playmaker. In fact, the very first Kings goal last season began from Vilardi and Byfield setting each other up in front of the net for some Grade-A chances before Byfield passed to Vilardi, who wired one home. He also assisted on the Game 3 winner against Edmonton during the playoffs.
I would seriously not worry about Byfield’s offensive ability just because of a down year offensively. He has worked with a shooting coach, and I have no doubt that he will live up to his potential as a 2nd overall pick.