For players like Quinton Byfield and Arthur Kaliyev, perhaps all they need is an opportunity.
They’ll certainly have one come September.
The importance of players like Byfield and Kaliyev have grown substantially over the last couple of months. With the Kings acquiring Pierre-Luc Dubois to play center for the foreseeable future, the path for Byfield now appears to be on the wing, at least in the interim. For Kaliyev and other younger players within the organization, the Kings need contributions from players on entry-level contracts, filling roles in the lineup that might typically be compensated at the rate of a veteran.
“We have some that have the experience in the American League, they’ve gained that, that we can put in,” Kings General Manager Rob Blake said. “When you get up against the cap in certain situations, they have to be at a certain amount. A lot of that is entry-level contracts that fit those.”
Both players have proven to be capable, in spurts, of NHL contribution. Now, with a clear path to opportunity for both players, it’s about seizing the moment in front of them.
There is perhaps no more discussed player than Byfield amongst the media who cover the Kings and the fans who support the Kings. In the middle of a playoff series, it wasn’t uncommon to hear question after question directed about Byfield’s present and future……in the middle of a playoff series.
Now, the Kings will be hopeful that present and future begin to meet.
Where is Byfield in the development process, compared to the path set out for him? And, with his place in that process, where does it set him up long term?
“All signs point to Quinton Byfield developing into the player that the Kings organization thought he would. There’s your easy, succinct answer, yes. Now, in my opinion, he’s behind where we thought he would be.”
That was Mark Yannetti speaking on Byfield and his path earlier this summer.
Yannetti looked at Byfield’s development process from a variety of angles, dating back over his now three seasons with the organization. First things first, there was the pick itself.
Byfield presented a unique, 1-of-1, collection of skills, abilities and talents. Hard to find another player with size and speed combination who was also as productive as he was at younger levels. From bantams to major-junior hockey, Byfield was a dominant player and he did so with the size and speed that teams desire, on top of the production.
“He was a unique draft pick, he’s a unique prospect,” Yannetti said. “For all the analytics people, go back and find an analytics match for a guy who has Quinton’s attributes, his size, his scoring in those leagues, there just aren’t any.”
When reflecting on the uniqueness of Byfield’s game, a pair of tweets were fresh on my mind when speaking with Yannetti.
Most points from 6'5+, 220lbs+ players this season:
94 — Tage Thompson
55 — Blake Wheeler
27 — Anthony Mantha
22 — Quinton Byfield
19 — Alexey Toropchenko
NHL's Unicorn. pic.twitter.com/2qHFdH6F0C
— Big Head Hockey (@BigHeadHcky) June 1, 2023
Oh, and those players point totals in their U21 seasons:
22 — Quinton Byfield
12 — Tage Thompson
3 — Anthony Mantha
0 — Kevin Hayes
0 — Alexey Toropchenko
If bigger players take longer to develop, Q has insane potential. pic.twitter.com/514r26uKfo
— Big Head Hockey (@BigHeadHcky) June 1, 2023
You could put absolutely no stock into this theory and that would be fine.
But, when Yannetti was speaking about the notion of how early injuries and missing games impacted smaller players in the draft, using a guy like Lucas Raymond as an example, compared to a guy like Byfield, he believes the curve is longer and wider for larger players. The stats above only really highlight the top two players as high-level contributors, but Tage Thompson and Blake Wheeler reached high production on a slower track, but certainly panned out on their own timeline. It took Wheeler, also a Top-5 draft pick, until his Draft plus-9 season to hit 60 points. Thompson exploded during his Draft plus-6 season for 38 goals and 68 points.
Even looking on the short end of that path, it took Thompson two teams and five seasons, spent regularly in the NCAA and AHL, to reach that point. Now, he’s a high-level, first-line player. The profiles are different, with Thompson always profiling as more of a goalscoring center first, whereas Byfield has the higher skating upside with an ability to make plays in different ways, on top of scoring goals. But, there’s a trajectory there to at least keep a look at.
If Byfield played in the AHL this season, he would have been among the youngest players in the league. Let alone the NHL, where he spent the bulk of the season. He’s scored at just about every level he’s played at, from bantams all the way through the AHL. For a lot of reasons, it would stand to reason that those traits will come through in the NHL as well, even though they haven’t thus far. Yannetti believes that Byfield is still on track to become the player the Kings drafted him to be and naturally for that to happen, the scoring output will have to uptick. There’s belief internally it’ll come.
“I think Quinton is on track to be the player that the Kings envisioned him to be,” Yannetti said. “I do think he’s behind the pace……something similar happens where, every year, a guy explodes, right? I mean, you see it every year, a guy you’re not expecting to explodes, so hopefully it’s Byfield. The kid works like a dog, he trains with Gary Roberts, you don’t have to really worry about him not doing the work, so I think there’s a high level of confidence. The organization has a high, high level of confidence.”
Regarding Kaliyev, perhaps the best opportunity is simply to get an extended opportunity.
It appeared that chance for Kaliyev would come this past season. With the structure of the Kings lineup entering the season, Kaliyev began training camp skating on the third line alongside Byfield and forward Alex Iafallo. Initially, that line was an exciting prospect, until Gabe Vilardi’s breakout camp forced his way into that spot, which relegated Kaliyev to the fourth-line spot he skated in the season before.
Playing in a more limited role, Kaliyev is a per/60 darling. During his rookie season, it was actually his defensive metrics that were outstanding. Few players allowed fewer chances while on the ice than Kaliyev during the 2021-22 campaign. Last season, Kaliyev led the Kings in shots on goal, scoring chances and high-danger chances, on a per/60 basis. Only Leon Draisaitl and Tage Thompson had more power-play goals per/60 than Kaliyev did. Among Kings forwards who featured regularly over the last two seasons, Kaliyev placed third behind only Adrian Kempe and Viktor Arvidsson in goals per/60.
Those are all cherry-picked statistics designed to highlight Kaliyev’s ability to produce. It’s not to suggest that per/60 rates will translate when forecast into a larger role because it simply doesn’t work that way. Matchups become tougher, expectations rise and smaller sample sizes don’t always remain constant on a larger scale. There’s a productive player in there, though, who is just 22 years of age. With the Kings in need of inexpensive contributors, and a spot in the Top 9 up for grabs come training camp, Kaliyev should have his clearest path yet to a larger role and the Kings are counting on him to fill it.
“I think Arthur Kaliyev can be an impactful NHL player and not only can be, but we need him to be,” Todd McLellan said during his exit interview. “It’s our job as a coaching staff to get him there, the development team, everybody else to get him there. We’ll do everything in our power to get him there, we need him there. The other side of the coin is his participation and I think he is very open to that.”
Speaking of development, Glen Murray spoke about Kaliyev at the end of development camp, as he was posed a question about the notion of continuing to work with younger players after they “graduate” from the development camp stage in their careers.
There’s certainly still an influence of the development team, as McLellan mentioned, but it’s certainly not as hands on with a player who is in the NHL as say it is with an AHL or CHL player. There’s just not the same amount of time in the schedule for that level of coaching. Still, there were areas of Kaliyev’s game that Murray highlighted that jive with what McLellan and Kaliyev himself said during the course of the season. Although Kaliyev has graduated from the AHL to the NHL over the last two seasons, there’s still work being done with players in his range to continue to work on specific skills that will help him to succeed at the highest level.
Both players are working on their games this summer and both players will hopefully take that work into camp believing they have a point to prove. It’s open season for roster spots and both players have to be considered leaders in the clubhouse to fill spots in the LA Kings lineup that exceed their salary cap hits. With the Kings figuring to be up against the cap for the foreseeable future, it’s go time for several.
For Byfield and Kaliyev, no better time than the present.