After playing in eight NHL games with the LA Kings to start the 2022-23 season, Quinton Byfield was sent to the AHL’s Ontario Reign after missing time due to an illness. He has now played in eight AHL games this season as well.
Something that I have been tracking with Byfield is his puck touches. I want to see where he’s been gaining possession of the puck and perhaps try to glean some information on how he impacts the game.
*Note: touch maps courtesy of An Nguyen’s Shot Plotter
Here is the touch map of all of his 174 touches in his eight NHL games (rink set-up is O-Zone – N-Zone – D-Zone):
As you see, the bulk of his touches are coming along the perimeter and behind the goal lines. At 6’5″ and over 220 pounds, Byfield will undoubtedly be an impactful player along the wall and is very good at using his big frame to protect the puck. And, of course, this is a skill that is crucial in the NHL. LA Kings fans may remember the late third-period shift against Minnesota earlier this season, where Byfield used his body and his reach to both protect the puck and win loose puck battles:
However, something I would like to see more from him, particularly as a center in the defensive zone, is being more involved in the breakout through the middle of the ice.
This is something we’re used to seeing with Anze Kopitar. He is a key piece in the LA Kings’ breakout, and a focal point in their neutral zone regroup. Here are a couple of quick examples:
With Byfield in the AHL, this was one of the things I was looking for. Sure, we all want the production (he has eight points in eight games, by the way), but I also want to see him demanding the puck and driving play more often than he was in the NHL.
In looking at his touch map in the AHL, I think we’re starting to see that.
Note: these touches are tracked from Byfield’s first six AHL games.
While there are still some significant touches in the corners and along the wall, we see a lot more in the middle of the ice in both the offensive and defensive zones. In about 30 fewer AHL touches in the games I’ve tracked, the O-Zone touches are more frequent and in higher-danger zones. He had over double the touches in the slot in the offensive zone than in his first eight NHL games. In the D-Zone, there are far more impactful touches in the middle of the ice leading to a breakout than along the walls.
A couple of clips highlight this, and I think there is a real positive trend in Byfield’s game.
What I like most about this following clip is not only is he in a good position and an option for the breakout, but before he even receives the puck, he recognizes he is going to be heavily pressured, so rather than try to skate through it, he drops it back to Tobias Bjornfot who sends the puck out wide and out of the zone.
These are the types of things we haven’t seen consistently yet from Byfield in the NHL. I feel confident in saying the AHL game is slowing down for him a bit, and he’s able to make these types of reads and positively impact the team’s puck possession. This will come at the NHL level; it’s just a matter of when.
Byfield has shown much more assertiveness in the offensive zone as well, making strong plays off the wall to get a puck toward the net and also not being afraid to take the puck to the tough areas to create scoring chances.
One of the strongest parts of Byfield’s game is when he’s gaining speed through the neutral zone. This is something else we’ve seen a bit more of in Ontario as well:
And, of course, he’s shown off his slick hands:
In addition to some improvements in his 5-on-5 play, Byfield is also becoming a force on the power play. We’ve seen him in a couple of different spots, whether in Los Angeles or Ontario, but I think it’s pretty clear that, at least right now, he’s best served down low. In the Reign’s most recent game, he scored a beauty from right in front of the net:
Quinton Byfield goes between the legs. pic.twitter.com/Yt9bmSkzRa
— Russell Morgan (@NHLRussell) November 28, 2022
It was his second power play goal of the season in Ontario, the first coming off a tip in front:
Something I’ve talked about often here and on the Hockey Royalty Podcast is that a down-low man has to be more than just a net-front presence. Byfield is doing a nice job of being a distributor as well. In this clip, there are four different pass attempts that he makes from that position, all while shifting to the front of the net when he needs to:
We don’t know precisely how long Byfield will be in Ontario, but with seven of his eight points coming in the last four games, I think we’re starting to see him get his legs back under him. It’s not only encouraging to see the production, but we also see some positives throughout his game that will hopefully translate to the NHL when he makes his return.
*Videos courtesy of InStat