How Kings’ Byfield emerged as a top power forward

In a scintillating display of speed and skill, Los Angeles Kings' Quinton Byfield does everything himself and does it beautifully, dancing through the Blue Jackets defence, kicking it to himself, and finishing the ridiculous goal from his knees.

Quinton Byfield dropped jaws across the NHL last week, scoring the goal of the year so far on a scintillating end-to-end rush. It was the signature moment in the 21-year-old forward’s breakout season with the Los Angeles Kings.

At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, Byfield has the combination of size and skill that general managers go gaga over. With the return of international competition on the horizon, Byfield could play himself into a key role on Team Canada.

“He does a little bit of everything out there,” Kings forward Pierre-Luc Dubois told reporters last week. “He can skate. He can pass. He can shoot. He’s got good hands, all those things you can see. But he works really hard, too. He tracks back. He forechecks. He breaks plays up. … He’s just going to get better and better.”

Byfield’s emergence probably does not come as a shock to those who watched him produce 143 points in 109 games over two seasons in the OHL. The second-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft rates as one of the top power forwards in the league this season, starting with his ability to hunt down pucks in the offensive zone. Byfield averages 1.91 puck-battle wins per 20 minutes in the offensive end, fourth most out of 471 forwards with at least 100 minutes of ice time. He ranks 24th in overall offensive-zone loose-puck recoveries at 9.14 per 20.

Fifteen of Byfield’s 18 goals have come from the inner slot, which leads the Kings and is tied for 18th in the league.

As Byfield’s confidence has grown, he has shown more willingness to handle the puck. This season, Byfield has averaged 18.1 offensive-zone puck touches per 20, a significant jump from last season’s 13.6. His 2.13 open-ice dekes per 20 in the offensive zone, up from 1.48 last season, rank 32nd at the forward position. (Byfield joked with reporters after his highlight-reel goal that “this time last year, I might have dumped it in” instead of attacking the net.)

Byfield has spent most of the past two seasons complementing Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe on the Kings’ top line, which has outscored opponents 54-24 at 5-on-5 over that span. It is not hard to imagine Byfield doing the same alongside Canada’s most highly skilled forwards on the international stage.

“Here’s a guy that took a little bit of flack early in his career and is just starting to get his legs going,” Kings interim coach Jim Hiller told reporters last week. “As a young player, you’ve just got to get out there and establish (yourself) as a dependable player that works. Now, once you do that, then the coach gives you a little bit more freedom. You gain a little more confidence. … That’s a process.”

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