Quinton Byfield deserves to be a regular in the LA Kings lineup because his skill is undeniably unappreciated.
Quinton Byfield was expected to make his full-time NHL debut at the start of the 2021-22 season but would succumb to a treacherous injury that would cause him to miss a considerable chunk of the regular season. When he had broken his ankle in a pre-season game against the Arizona Coyotes, not only did the LA Kings miss Byfield as a depth piece, but it also greatly halted his development.
When a second overall pick like Byfield misses roughly three months with an injury that keeps him off the ice, it doesn’t favor his development and potential. While we are thankful it wasn’t as long-term as possible, you can’t help but wonder how much better QB would look if he hadn’t missed those three crucial months.
After Quinton had fully recovered from his injury, he was sent down to the Ontario Reign of the AHL to get a few reps in to be completely ready for the NHL. After 6 points in 11 games, it was safe to say he was prepared to come back up. These types of moves had only solidified that argument.
Byfield only appeared in 40 NHL games this year due to his injury and a few games where he had been scratched, and he recorded 10 points in those 40 games. Obviously, it wasn’t as pretty as we would’ve wanted it to be, but we did see some promise when he wasn’t scoring. The puck luck wasn’t there for him, but it was clear that he was up to NHL speed, and he had a fantastic game sense.
One of his standouts was his defensive skill. For young players like Byfield, defense isn’t one of the attributes that players get used to so quickly. For QB, he managed to learn the ins and outs of NHL defense quite pacely.
In this little tidbit, we can visualize how much Byfield has improved his defensive awareness. Once Sean Durzi had accidentally coughed up the puck at center ice, causing Anaheim Ducks defenseman Josh Mahura to enter the LA Kings defensive zone easily, Quinton Byfield managed to catch up to Mahura and use his stick to intercept any sort of play that Mahura wanted to do. The sliding part of it is a little bit unnecessary, but it’s a fixable issue.
Having a big centerman like Byfield, who could swiftly backcheck and break up plays in the defensive zone like that, is huge. Every team needs a two-way player who can be a defensive specialist and could help out in the offensive zone. QB has demonstrated that he is fully capable of being that sort of guy for the LA Kings for many years to come.
While it’s not the cream of the crop and isn’t top-notch, Byfield is 8th on the LA Kings via Corsi against per 60.
This isn’t a small sample size, either. Byfield has appeared in 40 games this season, which is more than Drew Doughty has. So we know that what Byfield achieved defensively this year has been legitimate. It’s also notable that Quinton has a better CA/60 than Phillip Danault has this year, which is a huge plus for the 19-year-old.
Byfield’s speed and puck protection skills are also unique. While the 10 points he’s scored this year aren’t notorious, we’ve seen flashes of him where it feels like one day. He’ll casually skate through teams and score goals with ease.
A Quinton Byfield breakout would make this series more interesting. pic.twitter.com/h1nIQy88fE— Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) April 29, 2022
Here is Byfield skating through two Oilers defensemen and then setting up Gabriel Vilardi with a pass. Again, not much is generated, but seeing how this 19-year-old can use his speed and unbeatable puck protection is mesmerizing. This doesn’t happen every game, of course, but he does try it ever so often, and the majority of the time that he does attempt it, it works.
He’ll only get bigger and better, and once he does, it’ll seem impossible to knock him off the puck while he’s speeding through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. Not many current Kings regular players are capable of doing that.
A lot of them would chip the puck in and try to go for the regular dump and chase. Byfield always goes deeper into the zone and attempts to create a play from down low. It’s a very modernized type of hockey, and it’s something that this league needs.
The 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins in Boston was one of Byfield’s best games of his entire career. He was held scoreless, but he generated multiple scoring opportunities and offensive zone plays like this one.
Here, Quinton picks up the puck right as he comes off the bench, then he proceeds to avoid some traffic caused by a hit, just to avoid a possible collision (or a stick check), and he manages to pull off a shot. If a player was planted right in front of the net, it could have been a goal, and Byfield would have been credited with an assist.
These types of dekes don’t happen as often as his end-to-end plays, but it is nice to see him have the confidence to make these sorts of drives. Referring to earlier, the bigger part of the Kings’ bottom six isn’t capable of making these moves. Blake Lizotte is really the only player that can and does these types of plays.
Byfield displayed his soft yet sturdy touch to the puck in that clip, showing how quickly he can transition from quickly and ever so carefully deke through the offensive zone, just to protect himself from a defensive attacker the very next second. A lot of NHL players capitulate to that sort of pressure when protecting the puck, but Byfield held on and got the shot on goal.
Our final clip is a shift from the Kupari-Byfield-Vilardi line that we saw for a couple of games at the end of the regular season.
Rasmus Kupari and Byfield help each other out in a board battle behind the net and later proceed to set up in the offensive zone. It’s sort of shameful to say, but when that line juggled the puck around and almost scored when the puck was sent in front to Byfield, it looked better than most of the power plays that the Kings have had throughout the regular season and the playoffs.
The passing was crisp, the puck never stopped moving (meaning that the players always found a way to keep it in their possession), and they also pulled off a high-danger scoring opportunity. That entire line was on fire, and it’s a shame that it was split up because all three of the players that were on it had some of the best games of their entire careers together.
Hopefully, we’ll be able to see a reunion of the champagne line sometime in the playoffs.
While Quinton Byfield has had a few rough games, and he has been a victim to the pressure of playoff hockey, it’s unreasonable that he was a healthy scratch in game 3. The things that he does defensively and offensively go completely unnoticed, and it’s always the negatives that stand out. Without Byfield, it truly feels that the Kings look weaker on the puck.
His defensive aspect has seriously helped out the Kings, and it goes unnoticed. But we did notice it when the Kings lost 8-2 on home ice and Byfield wasn’t playing. Maybe it’s just that Byfield hasn’t had the proper chance to prove himself in the playoffs, or maybe he isn’t living up to crazy expectations. But whatever it is, Byfield deserves to be a regular on the LA Kings because his skill is undeniably unappreciated.
(Main photo credit: NHL.com)