Ontario Reign Recap: Quinton Byfield 2020-21 Season

Quinton Byfield 2020-21 season, 2021 Los Angeles Kings Prospects

Welcome to my new series, the Ontario Reign Recap. In this series, I will be highlighting four Los Angeles Kings prospects who played with the Ontario Reign during the 2020-21 season. I will be doing a deep dive into their seasons focusing on their progress and what areas of their game they still need to improve upon. Today’s article covers Quinton Byfield.

Quinton Byfield 2020-21 Season

Where He Started

Coming into the season, Quinton Byfield had a lot of hype around him, and rightfully so. Over the summer, he was selected second overall in the 2020 draft by the Los Angeles Kings. He came off a dominant OHL campaign, scoring 32 goals and 82 points in just 45 games. All the while, he was one of the youngest players in his draft class, being born on August 19, 2002.

While Byfield was one of the top players in his draft class, he still had some aspects of his game he needed to work on throughout the 2020-21 season. Those aspects primarily being: improving his physical play and using his body more, puck protection, and overall two-way play.

With the unusual circumstances the hockey world faced due to COVID-19, Byfield was presented with a rare opportunity this past season. Usually, a player of his age coming from the OHL would have two options heading into the season. Those options are playing in either the OHL or NHL. Because the OHL was shut down with the pandemic, OHL players were given an exception. This exception allowed Byfield to play his season in the AHL.

Quinton Byfield 2020-21 Season Overview

Overall, Byfield’s 2020-21 season was a great success. He was able to be effective and dependable as just an 18-year-old playing in a men’s league. To begin the year, Byfield, along with the rest of the Ontario Reign, started off fairly slow. He and the young team went through a clear adjustment period while accommodating themselves to the North American professional game.

This adjustment period eventually came to an end, however, as Byfield began to find his stride. He slowly but surely began to produce some points, until he exploded with offence in his five-game goal streak in the middle of the year. Byfield ended up finishing his season with eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points in 32 games played. This gave him a points-per-game average of 0.63, putting him on pace for about 43 points in a full 68-game AHL season. It also was good for an NHLe (NHL equivalency) value of 30 according to Byron Bader’s Hockey Prospecting model.

To cap off Byfield’s solid season in the AHL, he earned himself a call-up to the Kings towards the end of the year. The team limited him to just six games though, as they didn’t want to burn a year off of his entry-level contract. Byfield scored just one assist in his short stint, but underlying numbers suggest he was still very effective. According to Evolving Hockey, Byfield finished second on the Kings in ixG/60 (individual expected goals per 60 minutes) at five on five. Additionally, he finished eighth on the Kings in GAR/60 (goals above replacement per 60 minutes). Please note, however, that these numbers are taken from a very small sample size.

Improvements

While spending time developing with the Reign, Byfield was able to improve in multiple areas of his game. He honed in on the aspects he needed to fix coming into the season and made very positive progress on all of them.

Using His Body and Size

In terms of physicality and using his body more often, Byfield did exactly that. He engaged in and won many battles, and was able to use his size to box out opponents, and power the puck out of crowded areas. Early in the season, he was getting overpowered in net-front battles. This was a problem, as coach John Wroblewski had Byfield in the net-front/bumper position often on powerplays. As the season went on though, Byfield showed notable progress, winning more and more net-front battles and being assertive with his positioning in front of the crease.

Additionally, his puck protection skills have improved as well. Byfield is learning to use his size to his advantage when shielding the puck from his opponents. You will see him emerge with the puck from behind the net or along the half-wall more often than before, mainly due to the application of his size. This will only continue to improve as his experience progresses. Anze Kopitar, one of the best puck protectors in the NHL, should continue to help Byfield develop this skill.

Two-Way Play

Like the majority of prospects coming out of the draft, Byfield needed to round out his defensive play. Over the course of the season, Wroblewski began to trust Byfield more and more. He, along with the Kings development staff, worked on the defensive play of not only Byfield, but the rest of the Reign players.

By the end of the season, Byfield found himself as a more responsible two-way player. His defensive positioning was sound, and he was very quick to get in on the backcheck. He is learning on utilizing his long reach to disrupt plays as well, which will prove to be a valuable asset for him. Byfield’s improvements were strong enough to warrant a call-up to Todd McLellan‘s Kings. This is not an easy feat, as McLellan puts a strong emphasis on his players being capable of playing a 200-foot game.

What Still Needs Work

Given how strong of a prospect Byfield is, there are no clear, outstanding flaws in his game that suggest he is not ready for the NHL. With that said, everyone still has room for improvement somewhere.

Consistency

While consistency is not technically a specific skill, it is an issue Byfield struggles with. While he had a productive season with the Reign, his production was very streaky. He’d go through a stretch of games where he would appear as the best player on the ice and the biggest driver of offence for Ontario. However, Byfield would also go through stretches where he was at times hard to notice, and quiet on the score sheet.

For Byfield to fully reach his offensive upside, he needs to figure out how to eliminate those cold stretches and consistently be one of his team’s biggest drivers of offence. This takes time though and doesn’t happen overnight. As he becomes more comfortable in his skill, body, and league, the consistency should come.

Defensive Play

This may seem a bit misleading, as defensive play was one of Byfield’s improvements this season, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t get better. Tuning up his defensive game and two-way play even further would only benefit Byfield. As he transitions to the NHL, specifically as a centre, having a strong defensive game would be incredibly beneficial.

Overview

Overall, this season was a big step forward for Quinton Byfield. Every area of his game he came into the year with that was an issue, he touched on and made significant progress. Having the rare chance to play in the AHL as an 18-year-old from the OHL was greatly beneficial for him as well. Based on the way his season went, all signs point towards Byfield being an NHL regular with the Kings next year, and maybe even in the heart of the Calder Trophy race.

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