Los Angeles Kings: Quinton Byfield is the greatest gift of all

Quinton Byfield #55 of the Sudbury Wolves. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
Quinton Byfield #55 of the Sudbury Wolves. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images) /

Quinton Byfield gives the Los Angeles Kings hope for the future.

Late December is a time typically reserved for celebration, reflection, and general anticipation for the year to come. It’s filled with holidays, cheer, and in years that don’t rhyme with ‘honey bunny’, festive gatherings.

If you’re a fan of the Los Angeles Kings, what better way to get excited about the forthcoming year than to look back on what your favorite team has achieved and why their future could be among the brightest in the entire NHL?

It all really started on October 6th, when the Kings made the potentially franchise-altering decision to select Sudbury Wolves forward Quinton Byfield with the second overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Now sure, technically the Kings also played hockey games in the same calendar year, all the way back in March, but objectively speaking, they weren’t particularly noteworthy. They certainly weren’t enough to get the Kings into the playoffs, that’s for sure.

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With Alexis Lafreniere all but guaranteed to go number one even before we collectively knew who would have the honor of selecting the Saint-Eustache, Quebec native with the top overall pick – turns out it would be the New York Rangers – the Kings had a unique decision on their hands when they landed the second overall pick in the Draft Lottery. Would they draft Byfield, a 6-foot-4 forward with a powerful shot and legit top line, or Tim Stuetzle, the more polished German center with the versatility to play left wing too?

Fortunately, it would appear the Kings made the right call.

Now, as you’ve (probably) already heard, the Kings have one of, if not the best farm system in the entire NHL. They’ve selected some really intriguing players in the first round of the last few drafts – players like Gabriel Vilardi, Rasmus Kupari, Tobias Bjornfot, and Alex Turcotte – but none of those players really project out to be ‘face of the franchise’-caliber players. Not even Turcotte, the team’s highest draft pick since Brayden Schenn in 2009, brings the same level of upside – and by extension excitement – as Byfield, who coincidentally enough, is the highest player the team has drafted since 2008.

Last time I checked, that player turned out pretty darn well for the Kings.

That’s the beauty of having Byfield as the crown jewel of the Kings’ ‘farm system’; he has legitimate star power. If the Kings are going to continue to be a below-average team destined for an early out in this year’s Western Conference, at least they aren’t spinning their wheels hoping to get lucky in the draft and land a cornerstone to build around. No, the Kings now firmly have that player in Byfield, and at only 19-years old, his ceiling is near-undefinable.

Will we see Byfield playing a prominent role on the Kings in January? Debatable. NHL.com’s Dan Rosen and Mike Zeisberger projected Byfield as the team’s third-line center sandwiched between Gabriel Vilardi and Blake Lizotte in their 31-in-31 series, but personally, that seems a tad presumptuous. Then again, with the OHL’s start date now indefinitely up in the air after passing on their proposed February start, it’s entirely possible Byfield may find himself a fixture of the Kings’ bench for much of the forthcoming season, even if his playing time is far from guaranteed.

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But honestly, it really doesn’t matter when if Quinton Byfield averages 12 ATOI as a bottom-six forward, leapfrogging Vilardi to become the Kings’ 1b option up the middle behind Anze Kopitar during the 2020-21 NHL season – not really anyway. No, the Los Angeles Kings’ decision to draft Byfield second overall was about the team’s future, not winning a few more games in a new-look West Division that now features the Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues. With Byfield now in place, the team’s rebuild has a clear focal point and a much more defined endpoint – a gift  Pacific Division teams like the Anaheim Ducks and the San Jose Sharks would kill for.