Having earned an expanded role, Quinton Byfield is over-delivering on expectations

“He’s really stepped up there, just his overall game. The pace that he plays with, it definitely helps our team.”

The impact Quinton Byfield is having right now runs all the way to the top of the organization. That was General Manager Rob Blake, speaking on Friday, about the impact that Byfield is having on the Kings right now.

Entering this season, Byfield had never played more than 20 minutes in a game. Entering the month of February, in fact, he had never played more than 20 minutes in a game. His career-high was 19:04 in a game last March in Edmonton, the only time he broke 19 in his NHL career. He eclipsed 18 minutes just five times all season heading into the All-Star break.

Coming out of the break, Byfield met 1-on-1 with Head Coach Jim Hiller and the message was clear. You’re going to play more.

Message received and message personified.

“I feel like I’m ready for that, I want that responsibility,” he said, confidently.

In the month of February alone, Byfield averaged 18:54 per game, nearly three minutes more than he played in any preceding month this season. He’s averaging more than 20 minutes per night so far in March, 21:36 to be exact. A large part in that uptick in minutes has been the team’s willingness to play with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, understanding that the burden shifts around to different forwards to log more minutes.

“He’s such a well-conditioned athlete, he skates, at times, it’s effortless for him,” Head Coach Jim Hiller said. “I’m checking in on him and he’s ready to go. I’ve got to check in on him and make sure he’s okay to go and he’s ready to go. When he gets on the ice and he’s moving like that, I don’t see any signs of fatigue.”

Few have benefitted more than Byfield, who brings a versatility to his game that allows him to shuffle up and down the lineup, on top of the conditioning that Hiller mentioned.

It’s not just about the minutes though, because unless you’re doing something with them, you probably won’t continue to receive them.

Since the NHL All-Star break, which coincided with Hiller taking over as the team’s head coach, Byfield has five goals and 12 points from 14 games played, second on the team to only Kevin Fiala in both categories. And we know how well Fiala has played in that time.

Looking specifically at 5-on-5 situations, Byfield has been the team’s most impactful contributor, leading all Kings skaters with 10 points at 5-on-5. His seven assists at 5-on-5 were tied for the ninth most in the NHL during that stretch amongst forwards and with five of those helpers coming as primary assists, he ranks tied for seventh across the league in that time.

In that same span, Byfield leads the Kings in scoring chances created off of plays he’s made to get the puck into the slot. He’s also atop the charts looking both at scoring chances off the cycle and off the forecheck, which both play well into Byfield’s strengths. Big and strong, he excels below the goal line and he uses that size, along with his skating ability, to impact games on the forecheck as well. While most of his damage has been done atop the scoring charts with regards to plays made, he’s also found the back of the net a few times himself.

Included in that production have been a few highlight-reel goals, including perhaps the goal of the season around the NHL against the Columbus Blue Jackets last month.

“That was beautiful from the moment he got the puck to the moment it went in,” teammate Pierre-Luc Dubois remarked of Byfield’s highlight reel goal.

Byfield followed that up with a superb individual effort against Ottawa on Thursday, a breakaway in which he won a battle in the neutral zone, created a breakaway opportunity with his size and speed and finished in tight. It’s a play that Byfield has the ability to make, a play that not many do, a play that displayed several of his strengths. It’s a play, though, that he probably wouldn’t have finished last season.

“He’s a young player and he wasn’t scoring those types of goals over his first couple seasons, we all saw that and some people get frustrated with that, but I didn’t see that at all,” Hiller said. “I saw a guy who works really hard, who’s got tremendous physical ability, who, when working on his game, was going to get better. Now, he’s able to score those types of goals.”

That notion of hard work is something that Hiller has commented on numerous times. It’s not always a given, but it’s something that Hiller has noticed early and often with Byfield’s game.

Byfield is a player who takes advantage of practice time, regularly working on certain aspects of his game outside of the formal practice sessions. He’s also had a unique combination of size and speed, but he’s added so many other elements to it. Hard work, personified.

“The one thing that impresses me about Q more than anything is his work ethic,” Hiller added. “You can see his physical ability, but for a high draft pick, to come into the league and have that effort right away has been really impressive. When you have that work ethic, you’re going to get better and your game is going to grow with some of those other areas. I think that’s what we’re seeing.

The notion of working on his game is one that his teammates have picked up on as well.

“He works harder than so many players in this league,” defenseman Drew Doughty said of Byfield. “He’s so good at checking, so good at stripping pucks and he’s got the rest of his game going, the vision, the scoring, the dangles. He’s a great player and I’m not at all shocked, I saw this happening.”

This season, we’re seeing that hard work translate into production.

Entering the day, Byfield ranks fourth on the Kings in scoring. He’s seen a promotion throughout the season to the top power-play unit, which has helped to up both his production and his minutes. With 19 goals, he’s one shy of scoring 20 for the first time in his career. Not bad for a guy who got a lot of flack for his goal totals a season ago, eh?

Sometimes it takes a bit of time.

Byfield came into the league at 18 and established himself as an NHL regular during his third season, last year, at age 20. He couldn’t legally enjoy a whiskey but he could play on Anze Kopitar’s line. Go figure.

As Hiller noted, he wasn’t scoring the types of goals he is now last season. Byfield himself joked after his goal in Columbus that he might have dumped it into the corner off the rush last year. He was a player who did not portray the confidence on the ice that he does now. Sometimes, even for highly-drafted players, that’s all it takes. Confidence.

From one highly-drafted player to another, that’s what Doughty has seen change.

“He’s huge and he’s strong, it was just him getting his confidence and him getting his opportunity,” Doughty added. “He’s playing lots of minutes now, more than he ever has, and he’s doing a great job with it.”

Now, the Kings are in a place where they’re not just excited when Byfield plays at this level but they’re expecting it. Byfield is a player that is relied upon on a nightly basis for offensive contributions, for starters, but an overall game that makes a difference. When the Kings struggle, Byfield is someone the team is looking towards to help bring the group back up. When things are going well, he’s become one of the reasons, more and more regularly.

Perhaps the biggest sign of his arrival came during Hiller’s first game as the team’s head coach. Byfield scored two goals in a 4-0 win over Edmonton and Hiller was asked if a performance like that shows that he can now “dominate games”.

He almost shrugged.

“That’s just what I expect from Quinton.”

Pretty good place to be, when those types of performances have become the norm.

Photo by Gary A. Vasquez/NHLI via Getty Images

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