Your parents likely warned you – ‘Don’t believe everything you hear.’
We’re now more than 90 days past our original comments regarding what the Kings were looking to do at the top of the first round this year. And while many have tried to suggest otherwise, it’s time to put all the talk to bed. Although German forward Tim Stutzle is supremely talented, we believe come Tuesday night it will be — ‘With the second selection in this year’s NHL Entry Draft, Los Angeles is proud to select Quinton Byfield.’
For those buying into the theory that the New York Rangers – who hold the No. 1 overall selection — have too many wingers and they need a big center, we just don’t see them passing on Alexis Lafreneire. Their decision is actually an easy one. Lafreneire has been the consensus No. 1 pick for a long, long time. This isn’t a Taylor vs. Tyler decision like in 2010. Or even a Hughes vs. Kakko debate like last year. Bottom line, how many times has an NHL GM passed on the clear No. 1 selection in the past few decades? It’s more rare than an offer sheet.
Now, could the Rangers trade out of the No. 1 spot? Absolutely.
Guess what, though? The team trading up to No. 1 isn’t making that move to get Byfield. They’d be looking to snag Lafreneire.
Therefore, regardless if it’s the Rangers or another team walking to the (virtual) podium first on Tuesday, Lafreneire is going No. 1.
Which gets us back to the Kings and Byfield.
For those just being introduced to the Newmarket, ONT native, let’s help get you caught up. He was the first player taken at the 2018 OHL Draft and followed that up with a season where he had 61 points (29G, 32A) in 64 games and was named the CHL Rookie of the Year. This past season, in his NHL Draft eligible year, he posted 1.82 points per game, putting him top five in the OHL. Byfield also played limited minutes for Team Canada at the 2020 World Junior Championship, and is expected to play a more significant role for his home country once again at the next tournament in a few months.
Sure, there is an argument to be made for Byfield vs. Stutzle, simply because they are the two best players available after Lafreneire. They’re also two very different players, besides the obvious center vs. winger conversation.
For starters, Byfield will most likely be a primary culture guy, while Stutzle projects as a secondary culture guy. The Kings were loaded with culture guys during the 2012 and 14 glory days. That era was also followed by a period where the culture waned. And it’s something they’re looking to solidify going forward. If a team can get their culture from their No. 1 center, that’s different than getting it from your No. 3 center.
On the ice, Byfield has exceptional vision, is in the top tier of skating, and the next tier of hockey sense. He’s a horse who can score and make secondary plays. Though he might not ever score as many points as Stutzle, there is so much more to the game than just points. What about faceoffs? What about defense and having a two-way game? How about driving the top power play unit? Competitiveness? Hockey IQ?
One interesting aspect to Byfield is just how steady he is, despite lacking some of the flash displayed by other top 10 candidates this year. Stutzle is a dynamic skater. Marco Rossi has incredible stickhandling. Cole Perfetti’s playmaking is marvelous. Alexander Holtz has an uncanny goal scoring ability. In fact, you could rank the best playmaking forwards or best stick handling players in the draft and Byfield wouldn’t be in the top five. Why do some people compare him to Evgeni Malkin then?
This is where it’s important to understand that all skills and comparable metrics are not equal in value. For example, skating and hockey sense should not be ranked equally. Stutzle ranks higher in most of the fancy stats that people like to rank. However, some scouts have noted that Stutzle’s skill is no better than say Josh Ho-Sang. Also, defensively, Stutzle’s game isn’t where it needs to be. That’s not to say it won’t improve, it’s just something that will most likely need some work in the AHL before he’s NHL ready.
More from Steve Kournianos at The Draft Analyst:
“Byfield combines obvious physical strengths with elite hockey sense, anticipation and scoring ability. He is as much a danger in tight spaces as he is in open ice, and he possesses a long, powerful stride that allows him to accelerate to top speed and create distinct separation from chasing opponents. … Much like current NHL star Auston Matthews, Byfield can dictate the flow of a possession from the boards or behind the net, and linemates at every level seem to understand that it’s his job to facilitate playmaking off the cycle. Byfield, however, is exceptionally crafty with the puck, and goalies have to respect his powerful shot that he wires with pinpoint accuracy from anywhere inside the offensive zone. On the power play, Byfield threads the needle with crisp cross-ice or cross-seam passes, but he has very soft hands that allow him to saucer feeds over congestion on either his forehand or backhand. His booming shot makes him a potential option at the point, but his elite hand-eye coordination makes his accurate one-timer from the circles a deadlier option. … His impressive wingspan and upper-body strength are critical aspects off the puck in that he can shove opponents off balance without overcommitting or finding himself trapped.”
What many people are missing on Byfield is how his size should be incorporated into the analysis. It’s not so much that he a big, strong, mature player. He’s at least 15-20 lbs lighter than where he’ll end up. Some have suggested he dominates at the OHL level because of his size. It certainly helped him, no doubt. However, it’s his skating that helped him dominate.
One reason a comparison to Anze Kopitar is so appropriate for Byfield is this very point. Look at Kopitar’s size when he was in Slovenia and then in Modo, compared to the NHL. Byfield isn’t 6-foot-2 and 220 lbs. He’s 6-foot-4 at around 210 lbs. If he eventually gets to 225 lbs, that strength will help him. Again, his size has sure helped him along the way, yet his strength issues were evident at the World Juniors. He simply wasn’t strong enough yet.
Speed-wise, Byfield is equally as fast as Stutzle and he possesses a much larger frame. Despite not being as agile or mobile, Byfield may outpace every skater in the draft in pure North/South speed. Watch him come back on a play and try to argue the point. His hockey IQ and playmaking ability are off the charts. Plus, his defensive game is as good as anybody you’ll ever see at 17 years old. Beyond his physical presence, his vision and reads provide him with additional room on attacking defenders and to create turnovers from the opposition.
When all is said and done, the Kings will be getting a future cornerstone player for the franchise in Byfield; a two-way player with size, speed and leadership. That’s quite the reward for suffering through the past few years. Then, add him to an already deep prospect pool, and the bright future in Los Angeles should become even closer to reality. Just be patient, as it will still be a few more years before Byfield is wearing his No. 55 Kings jersey in Los Angeles. He isn’t expected to make the big club coming out of training camp next month. He’s almost certainly heading back to the OHL for some more seasoning – which is only a good thing.
Byfield was teammates with highly regarded Kings prospect Akil Thomas both at the most recent WJC and in Sudbury this past season. Hear what Thomas had to say about Byfield during a recent Kings of the Podcast episode.
Notes on Other Potential Top 10 Selections:
Jamie Drysdale – The Kings were never in on Drysdale, period. We’ve tried to tell you for at least twelve months, that isn’t their guy. Now with that out of the way, let’s move on… Like with nearly any name in the Draft, if you really want to make a case for a player one way or another, there is plenty of ammunition to argue either side. If Drysdale hits, he likely ends up as a top-pairing defenseman. If he doesn’t reach his full potential, he’s still on the second power play unit. Among his many positives, don’t discount the fact he made the World Junior team last winter as a Draft eligible player. And in the semifinal game, he played a top-four role. That’s rare for a defenseman. However, he’s just not going to be a big guy when all is said and done. Drysdale is not undersized, he is slight and not a wide body. That’s one of the things holding him back, thus placing him a tier behind Byfield and Stutzle in the Draft rankings. Overall, his numbers were good, yet not great if you’re projecting him to be a top-pairing defenseman. Maybe his stamina just wasn’t there in the third period of games last year due to playing so many minutes as an underdeveloped guy. Maybe that contributed to his offensive game slipping a bit. Perhaps. The Kings will let some other team find out the truth.
Cole Perfetti – A playmaker who can score, like several others on this list. In the people we’ve spoken with, though, any comparison here to Nick Suzuki is an underwhelming comparison. Not a bad one, just that Perfetti is better in every area. If you paid attention to our Draft Prediction article last year, we tipped you off to the fact Trevor Zegras was the wild card in any LA Kings first round discussion. He was the player several inside the organization believed was something special. Even though he wasn’t high enough on their list to warrant being selected at No. 5, if they had traded down even a spot or two, that was their guy. Instead, Zegras went to the Ducks at No. 9. And here’s the kicker to the story, the same thing could end up happening again this year. Put aside the Byfield vs. Stutzle argument momentarily and envision a scenario where the Kings trade down (which isn’t happening), Perfetti would most likely be their guy this year. Depending what Detroit does at No. 4 and Ottawa does at No. 5, Perfetti could very well fall into the lap of Anaheim at No. 6.
Alexander Holtz – A natural goal scorer with a good nose for the net. He finds ways to get open and possesses an above average shot. Here’s the rub – unlike so many of the guys listed above, sure he can make a play here and there, just don’t look for him to elevate his linemates like those others can.
Lukas Raymond – Like Stutzle, he’s a playmaker who can score. His creativity and vision will make him an instant hit with the fanbase of whichever NHL team selects him. If he doesn’t out dazzle his competition, he will surely outwork them.
Marco Rossi – The current Flavor of the Month pick by a lot of people; could go much higher than once thought. What he lacks in size he more than makes up for in all other areas.
We will have more LA Kings Draft predictions in the coming days, including a detailed look at what they’ll likely be up to with their three second round selections and pair of third rounders.
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