Kings top prospect Quinton Byfield to make his NHL debut tonight against Ducks
Forward Quinton Byfield, regarded as a key piece of the Kings’ rebuilding process since they chose him No. 2 overall in the 2020 draft, is scheduled to make his NHL debut when the Kings face the Ducks at Staples Center on Wednesday night in the second of four straight games between the Southern California rivals.
The 18-year-old native of Newmarket, Canada, is considered a rare combination of size, speed, and extraordinary skill at 6 feet 4 and 215 pounds. He had eight goals and 20 points in 30 games with the Kings’ top farm team, the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League. In his junior hockey career he had 61 goals and 143 points in 109 games over two seasons.
Kings coach Todd McLellan said he planned to have Byfield skate alongside Adrian Kempe and Thousand Oaks native Trevor Moore on Wednesday and that Byfield also would get some time on the second power-play unit. In addition, Byfield might kill some penalties as the situation allows.
“We’re not playing him to hide him. We’re playing him to let him experience things,” McLellan said. “So he should be able to handle a regular shift. We expect him to. After that there may be more ice time available for him.”
McLellan said he would give Byfield basic advice and avoid putting too much pressure on him. “We’re going to give him the information that we think he needs, as we do with other players, and we’re really going to leave him alone,” McLellan said. “He’s worked hard to get here. We don’t want to overload any individuals, certainly not an 18-year-old coming into the league.
“I’m going to use that cliché of play the game, enjoy the moment, take everything in, don’t be afraid of making mistakes. We will help you with that and that’s what you have a long career for, is to fix them. He’s got good people around him when he steps onto the ice tonight ... and I think it will create some excitement for our hockey club as well.”
Quinton Byfield, who became the NHL’s highest-drafted Black player when the Kings selected him second overall, saw few players like himself growing up.
The jump to the NHL, where the pace is faster and the opponents bigger than at the junior level or in the minor leagues, can be a formidable challenge for young players. It has been a benefit to Byfield that because of pandemic-related restrictions, the Kings’ minor league team this season has been training and playing at the same facility where the Kings practice. Though he didn’t begin to practice with them until Tuesday, Byfield was familiar with Kings players and coaches, which might give him a sense of comfort. That familiarity seems to have accelerated his development.
“I think there’s been a personal adjustment that he’s made to life here and that affects his game, the comfort of being in and around the NHL players,” McLellan said. “I think he’s understood and began to adapt to the pro game, certainly at the American League level. Become a little more responsible defensively. Understands the pace of play and how quick he has to make decisions and distribute pucks.
“I hope that he’s not one that will feel obligated to move pucks to older, more experienced veterans because he has a very good skill set. We want him to use that and command the use of the puck and the distribution of it and the shot selection. But sometimes young players feel a bit intimidated, like they have to do that I hope he doesn’t feel that way because quite obviously at the American League level he’s overcome that and he does control games at times.”
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