For the past few weeks, Kings coach Todd McLellan has made mention several times of the immense pressure being placed on young Gabe Vilardi at the NHL level. You can now add another name to that same list. Quinton Byfield has been moved from AHL Ontario to the Kings taxi squad this week, in preparation for his pending NHL debut. With it will come enormous expectations for the team’s top prospect. It’s really nothing new, though, as he’s been hyped — and rightfully so — since being selected second overall at the 2020 NHL Draft.
On Monday, Byfield skated with the Kings during their brief morning skate. Tuesday was his first real practice with the team. For those keeping track, he was paired with Adrian Kempe and Trevor Moore. It remains to be seen if that will hold as the week progresses.
Regardless of how things play out in the days ahead, he did meet with the media via zoom after exiting the ice on Tuesday to share some thoughts…
Byfield on which one or two elements he feels best define his game
I’ve just tried to improve a lot over the past couple years; really trying to fine-tune my game, and be an every situation player. There are quite a bit of elements that I still need to improve on, but I think my strong suits right now are my skating, for a big guy, and my vision out there. I usually like to find my teammates out there before I take a shot, so I’d think those are my two strong suits right now. But there’s a lot of improvements coming, so I just keep going.
On the mindset of playing the final two games with Ontario over the weekend, knowing the call-up was likely to happen on Monday
Everything was up in the air, nothing is guaranteed here. I was just trying to stay focused on the task and whatever team I’m with, I’m 100 percent there. It was a lot of fun playing with the Ontario Reign. I think I learned a lot there. It was great development for me. I just wanted to give it my all the last two games and be the guy I’ve been all year, trying my best to get those wins. We got one win, but it sucks we didn’t come back with two. I’ll definitely think about that, but I was 100 percent into those games.
On a few of the areas Reign coaches John Wroblewski and Craig Johnson were able to help him this season
I did video sessions with both of those guys, whether it was offensive details or stick details. Wrobo was huge on that, just about me keeping my stick on the ice and always being available. Another thing is just communication. I think I got better over the season as it went on, but at the beginning, I was thinking it my head, but I wasn’t saying it on the ice. At the end of the year, I was calling for pucks and almost demanding it. I really wanted it. That started helping me. Then, CJ as well, he’s been great all year to me. He would show me clips of what a bunch of the skill guys do in whatever position I was on the power play. We were always working on that. After practice too, we would work on things like puck protection, little stick details. There’s a lot that goes into that and it helped me quite a bit.
On if he felt the AHL was the best spot for him to be playing this season
I think it was a definitely a good spot for me to be in this year, with the OHL not playing. There are a lot of leagues not playing because of COVID. There were a lot of questions and debate, things were always up in the air, so you never knew if you were going to get to play hockey. So it was good to be on the ice and they have a good group over there. I think it was key for my development. Over the first half of the season I wasn’t the greatest player. I kind of just became more comfortable, gained more confidence, and started to develop. I think it helped me quite a bit.
On where he believes his game has grown the most in 2021
Probably my defensive game. It’s become a little more compact and a little bit more controlled. I’m not always just running around the ice and trying to get the puck back for my team, but more just picking up my guy and staying in my spot, being close to the board for the puck, and always being open. That was a key part. In the beginning I was dash-19 (referring to his plus-minus). I was going for the green jacket. It wasn’t the best, but I kind of woke up in that department. I starting turning things around back then.
[ed note: Byfield was minus-15 after his first 13 AHL games. In Game 18, he was minus-4 and that pushed it to a mimus-19. The very next game, he was plus-4 and never looked back. From that moment until the present, over the course of his final 12 games with the Reign, Byfield posted a plus-9 rating.]
On if he was able to find chemistry with any of the various linemates he played with in Ontario, including Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev
First off, those two guys are great players. They were drafted here for a reason, and you can tell why. That whole Ontario Reign team, we’re all just pretty young guys and for all of us to develop together throughout the year, it was pretty incredible. They’re all great players and they’ll go on to play in the NHL one day. I think the two guys I started having chemistry with at the end were probably [Martin] Frk and Kaliyev, as well. We played together for like the last four games. I think we had multiple chances, we just couldn’t bury them. But they’re great players to play with. I was enjoying getting the puck and sliding to them to shoot it; they were just missing those opportunities a little bit. You can’t hold snipers down for that long, they’re gonna find it for sure.
For more with Byfield, be sure to check out his visit to Kings Of The Podcast just after he was drafted – available here for your reference.
Note to webmasters/reporters: When recapping news or interviews from this site please remember to include a link to www.MayorsManor.com