If you find yourself wondering if last game was Quinton Byfield’s best game of the season, or even the best game of his young NHL career, you’re not alone.
The thing with that is, this isn’t a dated statement to Saturday’s game in Philadelphia, or Tuesday’s game in Toronto, or last Friday’s game against Arizona. Byfield tallied a season-best three points against the Flyers this past weekend, so you might expect it to have been asked, but it’s a question that has seemingly come up time and time again here as the first month of the season comes to a close.
“You know what’s interesting is we’ve been saying ‘is that Q’s best game’ after almost every game this year,” McLellan said of the questions being asked about Byfield. “That’s a real good sign for him and a real good sign for us.”
It’s certainly a narrative being pushed in the media, no question about it, but it’s even being raised within the walls of the Kings coach’s room and within the locker room amongst Byfield’s teammates. If every game is maybe…possibly…perhaps considered to be his best, is it possible that we’re just seeing a new level and a new standard of play from Byfield?
The notion continues to come up, from a variety of different places, so it’s possible we just might be.
“We’ve been hearing that from a number of different media people, as well as in our coach’s office and in the locker room with the players, that maybe this was his best game,” McLellan said. “As the season goes on, if we keep saying that, it’s a real good sign. It means he’s making progress, it means that he’s consistent and we need that from him. We’re counting on him and he’s been able to deliver so far this year.”
It’s soooo 🍎🍎🍎 szn for QB pic.twitter.com/6yR48hWzU1
— LA Kings (@LAKings) November 5, 2023
It’s only 11 games into the season so sample sizes are still quite small. It just feels a bit different right now though, doesn’t it?
Last season, there was always the “but” attached when it came to Byfield’s play.
It was always the same statement, no matter your stance
Byfield seems to be playing well……”but” or “and”. The “but” was typically about his number of goals scored, or a comparison to players drafted around him. The “and” usually implied that the production would follow the strong play, if he continued to do the right things.
The right things for Byfield started last season when he moved from center to wing, giving him the opportunity to play a top-six role, and he thrived as a high-energy player who excelled on the forecheck, winning puck battles and recovering for his teammates. As he’s evolved and improved upon his game this season, those traits have continued to show up in his game, but now he’s got the comfort level and the confidence to make plays off of that work.
“I think the tenacity that’s coming out of him is his biggest strength,” McLellan said. “He’s willing to play extra hard without the puck and he’s willing to go get it, he’s got such a long reach and he’s got a lot of confidence right now. Once he does hunt the puck down and come up with it, he’s making some real good plays. He’s got tremendous range, with as low as he stays to the ice and his long stick, he’s using that as an asset and his linemates are playing well around him.”
Making plays after winning the puck is perhaps the biggest example of Byfield’s evolution.
Last year, we’d see Byfield use his unique combination of size and speed to his advantage, especially on the hunt, but it did not consistently translate into production. Byfield is one of the NHL’s fastest players, ranking in the 95th percentile or better in both max speed and bursts of 20 MPH or greater, per NHL Edge data. When you combine that skating ability with a player who stands at 6-foot-5, there’s an effective player in there, even without the points. That’s the player we saw regularly last year, with Byfield ranking similarly in the skating data, but without the production to match his impact or his role.
What wasn’t there, though was the production. Looking back to the 50 Facts article from over the summer, Byfield recorded a point on just 46.8 percent of the goals he was on the ice for, at all strengths. Of the 402 forwards who skated in 500+ minutes last season, only nine players ranked lower in that statistic, with Byfield nearly 15 percentage points below the NHL median number.
In the early stages of this season, Byfield has done his best to eliminate just about every opportunity to poke holes from a production standpoint. He’s got 10 points from his first 11 games played this season and he has a point on 58.8 percent of the goals he’s been on the ice for, including 66.7 percent at even strength. All the while, he’s still doing the same things that he did well last year, but now he’s also seeing the rewards on the scoresheet that weren’t there a season ago.
“I think he’s been doing it all year and all last year, at least when he played with us,” forward Adrian Kempe said of his linemate. “He wins a ton of battles down low, against the big, d-men too, which shows he’s using his body really well. Going back to last year, we had a ton of chances and he didn’t really get the points that he deserved, so those are showing a little bit more this year, so I think everybody’s really happy for him.”
As the points have come, the confidence level that Byfield is playing with continues to grow on a parallel path.
Two of the biggest driving forces behind that confidence have been role and consistency. For the first time in his short career, Byfield has started the regular season with two familiar linemates and the same role he occupied the season prior. He entered the season comfortable in that role and feels that comfort level has only grown as the line has produced together.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said, when asked if this is the most confident he’s felt in the NHL. “Just over this last stretch of games, I think it started from last season, playing with the same guys, Kopi and Juice are easy to play with, so being able to make plays with them, building chemistry, everything is starting to click. It’s easy to read off each other and when you make plays, you get more confidence as you go.”
Kopitar has been a constant in the 1C position and believes that Byfield is playing with a “swagger” that perhaps he wasn’t last season. He’s seeing a more confident linemate than he was a season ago and it’s been reflective in the play on the ice.
“He’s getting rewarded on the scoresheet – he’s using his speed, his skill and his size – and it’s great to see him develop,” Kopitar said. “He’s playing with a little swagger too.”
The Kings will certainly continue to look for the same level from Byfield, who has put a firm grip on his role with the Kings top forward unit. There are still areas for improvement, certainly. Byfield still has just the two goals this season, with eight of his ten points coming from assists. While his IPP total – individual points percentage – has gone up as noted above, it’s still relatively low by league standards for forwards. Perhaps that’s the best part of the situation, though.
We’re seeing an impact play for the Kings each night in number 55, but he still has so much room to grow and continue to improve. If Byfield continues on the path he is currently, we’re only seeing the beginning of the level he’s capable of. And that is pretty exciting.