LOS ANGELES – You can’t get into a train station when you’re in Quinton’s byfield, much less a faceoff circle.
Forget that he’s won every level of hockey competition, or that he’s 6-foot-4, or that he likes to wear a bow tie when it’s dress-up time.
Byfield is the black player with the most drafts in NHL history. Kings took him with the second pick in 2020. Not as big as race numbers. From the moment the Kings called his name, the shared goal is to progress at his own pace to the byfield. Hockey people want him to be great tomorrow.
“I think Conor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews all put pressure on them,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said on Thursday night, several hours before the byfield of the season’s first game against Colorado.
“They were 1-2 in their draft, producing 80-90 points with the bat. They are the key players. So some people expect one of those three to get here in someone else’s body.
McClellan, referring to McDavid’s brother-in-law in Edmonton, said, “I think Quinton is closer to Leon Dracitel rather than McDavid’s arrival path.” “We have number 9 (Adrian Kempe). He’s going to the All-Star Game. Thankfully he was patient with us and we were patient with him because he is like a player. Every player in the league would like him. So we’re not trying to lower expectations with Q. We are only trying to make them realistic.”
Based on Thursday, Byfield deserves a magnifying glass. He was quick to the puck, sailed for some close chances on Colorado goalkeeper Darcy Kumper, and turned in some power play time. He was on the ice for 15 minutes and had three shots into the goal in the Kings’ third consecutive loss, 4–1.
Byfield broke his ankle on October 6, when he ran into Christian Fischer of Arizona by the board in a preseason game. It was not a boon in disguise as the byfield would have strengthened the Kings to a great extent. However, it allowed him to gain reps in Ontario once he was rehabilitated, and he had six points in his last six appearances for the AHL’s reign.
He also played six games for the Kings at the end of last season, when they were starting to gain hope.
“I was hesitant about a few things at the time, plus there were no fans in the stands,” Byfield said. “But maybe it was easier because fewer eyes were looking at you. I am more confident than I was.”
He started Thursday by centering a line with Dustin Brown and Karl Grudstrom, the third in line. With Kempe hiking his level, and Philippe Danault and Viktor Arvidsson landing in the top six forwards, the byfield could provide a midseason boost for a team that, until this week, was showing postseason characteristics .
The Kings have beaten Florida and Washington on the road since Thanksgiving. At home they have defeated Pittsburgh, Dallas, Minnesota and the New York Rangers, which were running at the time.
“We are getting respect around the league,” McClellan said. “But it’s not about hope, it’s about faith, and when you can compete with the Stanley Cup contenders you start to believe more. The level of responsibility hasn’t been there in the last two games. (Losses in San Jose and here in Tampa Bay).
“But Quinton has gone through this before. He’ll be nervous, but he’s had enough. It’s the benefit of the regime using our facility (in El Segundo) and knowing where to park, being around our people , getting to know the coaches on a first name basis. The boys aren’t scared. Now all they have to do is worry about hockey.
The 2020 draft class has not closed and has left the byfield. Several players, such as the Ducks’ Jamie Drysdale and Detroit’s Lucas Raymond, have split, but top pick Alexis Lafrenier has only 11 points from 38 games for the Rangers. Byfield drew comparisons to Joe Thornton when he scored 82 points in 45 games in his first junior season at Sudbury.
“There’s always going to be a target at my back,” Byfield said. “But I won’t think about the noise that’s around him. It’s not like I’m going out there trying to prove why I was chosen where I was chosen. I’m just going to play my part And try to keep us on track.”
“Quinton Byfield is not our savior,” McClellan insisted. “I need to give him breathing room. That kind of load should go to the other shoulders.”
It’s a solid theory, but only one pair of shoulders supports the head that everyone sees first.