With the call-up of Quinton Byfield to the LA Kings taxi squad expected on Monday (along with his eventual NHL debut, as explained here), it was the perfect time to catch up with Ontario Reign coach John Wroblewski regarding LA’s top prospect. In addition to speaking about last year’s second overall draft pick, Wrobo also shared thoughts on two of the team’s other prized forwards, Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev.
The following comments came after the Reign played a pair of games over the weekend. With only eight games now remaining on the schedule, Kaliyev leads Ontario in goals (9) and points (21). Byfield will depart the team sitting second in both categories, having posted 8 goals and 20 points in 30 games played.
Wrobo on the progression of Byfield this season
The confidence level has skyrocketed at this point. That was his best game transporting the puck through the neutral zone. He has been building up to that game, so it’s not like he’s been deficient in that department. That’s the telltale sign of what he was drafted for, is to be able to carry that thing 180 feet, support, make plays off of it. When we first started off with QB, there was a guy who was finding his routes at the pro game, he was finding his timing; the detail things like being a little bit heavier in battles, one hand on the stick in battles, as opposed to when he needed two. All these things still need work, and he is gonna have to keep figuring them out, but the learning curve has gone from a guy that struggled to [produce] points, his plus-minus was down there probably near the worst in the league, and now he’s a dominant player. I loved his game today and I’ve liked it for a while now. He was outstanding. He still needs to work on some things too. He gets into the scoring zones, we talked to him a lot about his needing an assassin’s mentality in the scoring zones. Last night, he passed up two 2-on-1 opportunities and I thought he should have driven both of them or tried to pipe it himself. We’re still working through a couple of things there, but a tremendous young man and couldn’t be happier for him. Craig Johnson deserves a lot of credit too. Quinton has put in the work too, but there’s been a lot of detail work and video sessions helping QB out with his game.
On how Turcotte positively impacts the team outside of scoring goals
Another player that is still is finding his way here. With Alex, when he’s playing his best, he has the other team on their heels all the time and making little carving, slashing type of plays. He was around it again this weekend; it didn’t click for him on the line rush like I think he would like. There was a shot today that hit the post, it turn, wheeled and fired back to the far post – which is something we worked on in practice quite a bit this past week. Also, he drove play with a lot of routes. With that, he still has to learn through a couple things. There are a couple plays where he had the puck on his stick and then it’s in our net. There are some good learning lessons too. Sometimes it takes negative tangible results for the learning to take place. Unfortunately for Alex, he didn’t make a lot of mistakes tonight, but the couple that he made did end up in our net. We’ll have a quick chat with him about it. It’s about controlling the gray matter of a game at all times, making sure that we’re driving pace and continuing the proper mindset, both mentally as a team and as individuals.
On what the team worked on during their off-week that he saw translate into the two games over the weekend
I mentioned earlier about the work that Craig Johnson put in with QB and some of his detail things to get him acclimated to the pro game. CJ did just a bang-up job with the power play this week. It was a point of emphasis and one that we beat down and had some strong conversations with the power play, both as groups and as individuals, that they needed to be better. They need to value their position more on the team; not that they were taking it for granted, but maybe some choice words were used in that direction, as well — ‘You guys have to earn it out there!’ That was a prime example of something we worked on this week. I’m not going to divulge anything else, the closer you were watching you could probably put two and two together. We were outstanding in one department and started to look like we knew what we were doing in attack modes, so we’ll just leave it at that.
On what his response would have been during preseason if he was told Kaliyev would be leading the team in goals and points with less than 10 games remaining on the schedule
I wouldn’t be surprised in the goals department. I wish Arty had maybe a time-and-a-half more of those goals, maybe 15 instead of nine. Arty has bought in completely on the idea of being a 200-foot player. He’s one of our more reliable players in our defensive system. He still has some things to work on in our neutral zone defense, and that’s a fine art, not many players have played in a 1-3-1 before. Some guys pick it up right away and a lot of other guys struggle with it. That’s part of being youth, it’s angling, it’s just a different method of checking. It’s something that Arty has to continue to work at. Hats off to him for his dedication. Even when pucks weren’t going in for him, he was frustrated with that, he didn’t change his game, he didn’t revert back to junior habits. He just kept pushing for his faith in the system, and the work ethic that he was putting in has been commendable.
On if a prospect can overcome poor skating, or if there is a way to work through it
It’s interesting. If you downright don’t have straight ahead speed, you’re in big trouble as a forward. I’ll never say that there’s certain things that you have to have or don’t have. One of the beautiful things about hockey is that you have players that are gamers, guys that in a Game 7 — [Justin] Williams, for instance, guys that just have a knack and know the spots, and so smart. A guy like [Tyler] Toffoli, who I don’t think was ever coined to be a burner, but his prowess, anticipation, great stick, wall play – those are things that if you’re excellent in one department, if you’re the best in the world, in the top one percent of one percent in the world at something, you can find a way to make it happen. That’s what we’re trying to do; take their best characteristics and try to bolster them as much as we possibly can. Then, a degree at a time, try to take up the things that they’re not great at. With a guy that doesn’t skate well, you’ll work with him on anticipation, that’s my thought process there.
On his mentality of working with a prospect of trying to accentuate their positives
You have to take what they’re best at and find out what that is real fast. You want to project what they might be at the NHL level, then try to hone in on a couple things that they do really, really well, and bolster those as much as you possibly can. Then, just chip away at the things that they’re not good at. Usually, it’s one department, one thing at a time. You’re not gonna be able to fix a player overnight. You’ll start with a forward, ‘Hey, this is where you’re at. You need to be here on your funnels in the defensive zone. This is your responsibility in a defensive zone next. Then it’s your anticipation on your exits.’ Say it’s a guy like Arty, then you’re just working on his scoring chances. Where does he get his scoring chances from, give him as many shots in those areas because that’s what he’s supposed to be, is as a scorer. It’s a good example to come back to Arty on that one.
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