LOS ANGELES – When you’re Quinton Byfield, you can not sneak into a train station, much less a faceoff circle.
Forget that he has overwhelmed all levels of the hockey competition, or that he is 6-foot-4, or that he likes to wear a bow when it comes to dressing time.
Byfield is the highest drafted black player in NHL history. Kings took him with the second pick in 2020. The race is not as big a matter as the number. From the moment Kings called his name, the common goal is to move forward at Byfield’s own pace. The hockey crowd wants him to be great yesterday.
“I think Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews are putting pressure on everyone,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said several hours before Byfield’s first game of the season Thursday night, against Colorado.
“They were 1-2 in their drafts, producing 80-90 points just outside the bat. They are leading players. So some people expect one of the three to arrive here in someone else’s body.
“I think Quinton is closer to Leon Draisaitl in terms of his development, rather than McDavid’s arrival path,” McLellan added, referring to McDavid’s brother-in-points in Edmonton. We have No. 9 (Adrian Kempe). He’s going to the All-Star Game. Thank God he was patient with us and we were patient with him because he is a hell of a player. All players in the league wanted him. So we are not trying to dampen expectations with Q. We are just trying to make them realistic. ”
Based on Thursday, Byfield deserves the magnifying glass. He was quick to the puck, sailed in on Colorado goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper for a couple of close chances and delivered some power play time. He was on the ice for 15 minutes and had three shots on goal in what became the Kings’ third defeat in a row, 4-1.
Byfield broke his ankle on October 6 when he ran into Arizona’s Christian Fischer at the boards in a preseason game. It was not a blessing in disguise because Byfield would have strengthened the Kings a lot. But that allowed him to get reps in Ontario when he first retrained, and he had six points in his last six games for the AHL’s Reign.
He also played six games for the Kings at the end of last season, where they had just begun to sprout hope.
“I was hesitant with certain things back then, plus there were no fans in the stands,” Byfield said. “But it was maybe easier because there were fewer eyes that saw you. I’m more confident than I was.”
He started Thursday by centering a line with Dustin Brown and Carl Grudstrom, nominally the third line. With Kempe on the rise at his level, and with Philip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson landing among the top six strikers, Byfield were able to give a mid-season boost to a team that until this week showed characteristics after the season.
Since Thanksgiving, the Kings have beaten Florida and Washington away. At home, they have beaten the Pittsburgh, Dallas, Minnesota and New York Rangers, all of whom were running at the time.
“We get respect around the league,” McLellan said. “But it’s not about hope, it’s about faith, and when you can compete with the Stanley Cup challenger, you start believing more. The level of responsibility has not been there the last two games (losses in San Jose and to Tampa Bay here) .
“But Quinton has been through this before. He wants to be nervous, but he’s been around enough. The advantage of Reign using our facility (in El Segundo) and knowing where to park is around our guys, know the coaches on a first name basis. The guys are not scared. Now they only have to worry about hockey. ”
The draft class in 2020 has not run out and left Byfield. Several players have sprayed, such as the Ducks’ Jamie Drysdale and Detroit’s Lucas Raymond, but top pick Alexis LaFreniere has just 11 points in 38 games for the Rangers. Byfield made comparisons to Joe Thornton as he scored 82 points in 45 games in his first junior season at Sudbury.
“There will always be a goal on my back,” Byfield said. “But I do not want to think about the noise that surrounds it. It’s not like I’m trying to go out there and prove why I was elected where I was elected. I just want to do mine and try to stay on track. ”
“Quinton Byfield is not our savior,” McLellan said emphatically. “I have to give him respite. That kind of weight should go on other shoulders.”
It’s a solid theory, but only a few shoulders support the head, which everyone sees first.