EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Quinton Byfield had to be in catch-up mode in his first full NHL season.
And it certainly wasn’t his fault.
The 19-year-old center and second overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft was scheduled to be in the Los Angeles Kings’ opener roster, but fractured his left ankle in a preseason game on Oct. 5. He therefore had to wait until January 20 before making his debut.
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« It was really difficult to arrive in the middle of the season when everyone is at full speed while you were injured, but I don’t intend to use that as an excuse, » Byfield pointed out at the end of the Kings’ development camp last week. “And I think this year I’m going to be even more ready than I was. »
Byfield had 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 40 games, including his first goal Jan. 27 against the New York Islanders. Despite this low production, he remains confident in his offensive skills. He focused on face-offs and defensive positioning this summer to get more playing time this season on the third line.
We were able to see that Byfield was lacking in these elements of the game in the first round of the playoffs against the Edmonton Oilers. Byfield had zero points, a minus-2 differential, four penalty minutes and a 46.2 percent circle percentage (six-for-13) in the two first matches. He was cut in the last five meetings of the series, lost by the Kings, but he believes he was able to learn from this ordeal.
« I never lost confidence in anything, » said the man who turns 20 on August 19. I know I’m a good player and I’m going to get there eventually. It’s a matter of having a little patience and getting opportunities. »
Video: NSH@LAK: Byfield punishes Rittich for his 2nd goal
Mike Donnelly, who has been part of the Kings’ player development department for years, believes Byfield’s development has been held back by the lack of opportunities for him to learn in the offseason over the past few years. The Kings did not hold a development camp in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Byfield was unable to attend the 2021 development camp due to a heel injury.
« By not attending development camp, he missed out on some really important things, » he said. There’s no doubt that it set us back. We are trying to catch up as much as possible. »
Byfield was still able to evolve in the American Hockey League despite the pandemic. He played 43 games with the Ontario Reign over the past two seasons, including 11 training games to recover from his ankle injury. A passage that allowed him to understand what it is to be a professional.
« If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, I would have been in the juniors in the OHL, and who knows what would have happened there, » Byfield said. But due to COVID and all, I kind of ended up in the AHL and learned a lot from those guys. There were several older veterans there, and they showed me the basics. »
Byfield believes that all the hardships experienced over the past two years will allow him to experience his hatching season.
“I think I still have a ton of things to prove. And I think in the next season I’m going to be really better. »