From the 2020 NHL Draft, three of the first six players selected have skated in over 100 NHL games. Lucas Raymond sits at 95 and he’s now a regular in the Detroit Red Wings lineup, so he’ll cross the century mark here pretty quickly. There’s also one player, Jake Sanderson, who just turned pro this season after finishing up his college career at North Dakota.
And then there’s Quinton Byfield.
Sure, every player has his own journey – absolutely. Byfield’s has also been one marred by several starts and stops.
Being drafted during the pandemic, which caused the OHL to later shut down, created a unique set of circumstances that let him begin his pro career a full season earlier than he would have normally. Due to various rules surrounding prospects, Byfield was targeted to return to junior hockey in 2021. He wasn’t eligible for the AHL… however, that’s exactly where he spent that season. Putting up 20 points in 32 games, he was running at nearly a point-per-game pace after the first month with Ontario.
This led to his NHL debut in April 2021, only to experience a foot injury a few months later that sidelined him from participating in the team’s summer development camp. Further complicating his path, Byfield suffered a serious ankle injury during preseason in September 2021. Thus, his NHL return was pushed out nearly four months, waiting until after he was all healed up and completed an 11-game stint in the AHL to finish off his rehabilitation.
Things were looking up for the Kings top prospect over the summer, though. He was invited to development camp in July, at the request of management to serve as one of the leaders for several younger players who were coming to Los Angeles for the first time. The following month, he celebrated his 20th birthday. Then, in September, he looked like a much-improved player at the NHL Rookie Tournament in San Jose.
Everything was trending in the right direction and the positive vibes continued right on through into Opening Night.
Life was great, until it wasn’t.
Not only did Alex Iafallo injure his leg and have to be placed on Long-Term Injured Reserve, but Byfield also fell ill late last month and hasn’t played in over two weeks now.
As we first indicated last week, Byfield has been assigned to AHL Ontario for what is, in essence, a conditioning assignment. For how long, though?
In Byfield’s absence, Rasmus Kupari was recalled from the Reign to fill in at 3C. In those six games, the Kings have gone 4-2. Now this isn’t meant to imply that the Kings are better off with Kupari in the lineup. It’s merely to add context to the upcoming decision GM Rob Blake will need to make, presumably in consult with LA coach Todd McLellan.
During his recent downtime, Byfield didn’t skate for 10 days and lost a fair amount of weight while he was sick. Conventional wisdom would suggest he could be on a three to five game conditioning assignment (even though it’s not really referred to as such, largely because he is waiver exempt; meaning he can go up/down as needed between the two leagues this season).
Here’s a brief snapshot of Ontario’s upcoming schedule:
Thursday, November 10 – at San Jose
Saturday, November 12 – at Bakersfield
Sunday, November 13 – vs. San Diego
Saturday, November 19 – at Henderson
Sunday, November 20 – vs. Henderson
Wednesday, November 23 – vs. Tucson
Meanwhile, from what we understand, the Kings do not currently plan to take Byfield on their upcoming four-game road trip next week through Western Canada and ending in Seattle on November 19. Their next home game is scheduled for Tuesday, November 22 vs. the New York Rangers. Byfield is expected to suit up for the Reign on Thursday vs. the Barracuda. Combined with the aforementioned Kings schedule, the 6-foot-5 center would appear to be penciled in for at least four games with the Reign and then management can evaluate how he’s doing and what’s next.
In checking with our sources, we were told the team doesn’t currently have a time frame established for Byfield’s return to the NHL. This is more about getting him back up to speed and confident with his game.
How long that takes will play itself out in the days and weeks ahead. There’s an old rule of thumb in the NHL that may be applicable here – or at the very least is important to keep in mind: goaltenders and defensemen typically mature around 24 to 25 years old; forwards are usually around 23.
Byfield just turned 20 a few months ago. So, even applying the ‘NHL continues to get younger’ mantra, he still has plenty of runway for his ongoing development.
Some have pointed to Gabe Vilardi’s extended time in the AHL last season and the wonders it did for his game. Could something similar be afloat with Byfield? It’s certainly possible, yet indications are the two scenarios are entirely different and not necessarily on parallel paths.
For now, Byfield will throw on his old No. 55 jersey for the Reign and likely need to take it one game at a time.
For those still wondering how the Kings even got to this point — i.e. why they took Byfield over Tim Stützle, as some on social media like to ask periodically — we dove into that very topic in the article below. It’s a rare and fascinating peek behind the LA Kings Draft curtain.
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