Kings select center Quinton Byfield No. 2 overall in the NHL draft
Like most everyone else in the hockey world, the Kings watched Quinton Byfield’s quiet World Junior Championships this winter with surprise.
In seven games with Team Canada, the big-bodied center collected one point. While his fellow draft-eligible prospects sparkled, Byfield’s playing time was slashed. In the gold-medal game in January, he was benched. In an otherwise stellar junior hockey career, it was a comedown without compare.
“It was definitely a bit of a learning curve for me,” Byfield said. “It was a humbling experience.”
But the Kings were also watching what came after, when Byfield scored 25 points in his final 15 Ontario Hockey League games, returned from a February wrist injury without missing a beat, and displayed a mental fortitude as strong as his 6-foot-4, 222-pound physical frame.
Eight months later, the Kings selected Byfield second overall in the NHL draft Tuesday, making the 18-year-old one of the most important picks in franchise history.
In 2008, the Kings drafted Drew Doughty second overall and dramatically changed their fortunes. They’re hoping for a similar scenario on Tuesday.
“You’ve been waiting for it all your life,” Byfield said, his white tuxedo jacket replaced with a black Kings jersey while speaking to reporters over a video call from his bedroom. “I was super excited — and a little nervous.”
The last time the Kings picked this high, they got Drew Doughty and four years later won the Stanley Cup for the first time. The expectations for Byfield — an Ontario, Canada, native who was the 2019 OHL rookie of the year, recorded 143 points in 109 games over the last two seasons with the Sudbury Wolves and became the highest drafted Black player in NHL history — will be almost as high.
“The big centerman, the effects that he would have on a game, all those things come into play,” general manager Rob Blake said of the team’s decision to pick the physically imposing two-way center.“With his size … elite speed and high-level hands to match, there’s not a lot of comps when you go through the league.”
For all Byfield’s on-ice attributes though, his response to the World Juniors was one the things that impressed Kings director of amateur scouting Mark Yannetti the most.
“A lot of times, these younger kids don’t deal with adversity,” Yannetti said before the draft. “When you get to the American League or the NHL the first thing you’re going to deal with is adversity — no matter how good you are. I liked the fact that I saw Byfield deal with adversity firsthand and deal with it well coming out of World Juniors.”
At the start of the draft, held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he expected next season to begin on Jan. 1, 2021.
Byfield’s struggles as a then-17-year-old in an under-20 event were hardly unusual. When asked last month what he took from the experience, Byfield described it as an ultimate teaching moment.
The Kings addressed one of their biggest needs of the offseason by acquiring left-handed defenseman Olli Maatta from the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I’m still really grateful for the experience,” Byfield said. “Lessons like that, sacrificing just a little bit of what you can do for the team to win, I definitely can take that back and use that later on in my game.”
That’s exactly what the Kings will be hoping for, especially since Byfield isn’t yet considered NHL-ready. There’s a lot of room for the Kings’ newest prospect to grow, a lot of hurdles left to clear to make good on his No. 2 selection.
“We’re not in a position where we’re forcing somebody into the lineup,” Blake said. “When they’re ready, those opportunities will come.”
Lafreniere goes No. 1, Ducks take Drysdale, Perreault
As expected, the New York Rangers made center Alexis Lafreniere the No. 1 pick.
Forward Tim Stuetzle, whom the Kings strongly considered taking second, went third to the Ottawa Senators.
The Ducks chose defenseman Jamie Drysdale, who collected 47 points in 49 OHL games with the Erie Otters this year, sixth overall and winger Jacob Perreault, who had 70 points and 39 goals in 57 OHL games, at No. 27.
Center Brendan Brisson, a Manhattan Beach native who played for the Jr. Kings youth teams growing up, was picked 29th overall by the Vegas Golden Knights.
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