For Los Angeles Kings fans, the word patience has been preached over and over again for three years regarding second-overall pick Quinton Byfield.
For some, this was difficult, especially when the pick after Byfield, Tim Stutzle, is lighting it up in Ottawa. But that patience is starting to pay off, and Byfield is taking big strides to become the player Kings management thinks he can become.
Like Stutzle, a move to wing has been the catalyst of big growth for Byfield. And like Stutzle, his future will be back at center, but for now, Byfield should continue to develop at wing.
Since moving to the top line with Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe, Byfield's looked like a different player. He's more confident, and he's finally playing at the high pace he played at in juniors. He's driving offense and creating for his line, something we haven't seen consistently at the NHL level.
He's also been more engaged physically. For all of Byfield's skill, he's at his best when he can physically impose himself on the opposition. And while he hasn't gotten to the point where he's truly imposing himself, he's close. He's winning a lot of board battles and has been one of the team's most effective forecheckers.
When he first got onto that line that ability to forecheck was evident, he was creating turnovers and making life difficult for the opposition. But he wasn't creating any offense off that. Now, he's forechecking at a high level, and creating offense off the chaos he creates.
He's also playing with more composure. Both Jim Fox and Derek Armstrong pointed this out on his goal against the Nashville Predators. Instead of throwing the puck on net in a panicked attempt to score, he settled the puck, made a move and finished. He's combining a fast pace of play with poise now, a dangerous combination.
The production hasn't been stellar, with just four points, two goals and two assists, since the move. A total that would give him 30 points over an 82-game season. But when you dig a little deeper his numbers become more impressive.
According to Naturalstattrick.com, since moving onto the first line, the Kings have been out-chanced in only one game with Byfield on the ice. And when looking at high-danger chances, it's even better. There have been no games where the Kings have had fewer high-danger chances than the opposition with Byfield on the ice since his move.
When your team is getting more chances than the opposition when you're on the ice, you're probably doing something right. And Byfield is doing a lot right.
He's also found a home on the power play. He's taken over the net front position on the second unit and is thriving there. He's using his size and skill in tight to create, leading to a nice goal against the Predators from this spot.
It isn't to the same extreme, but this feels a little bit like Jack Hughes' 2020-21 season. After scoring just above 0.5 points per game, Hughes was signed to a monster 8-year $64 million contract extension by the New Jersey Devils, a deal that many people criticized the Devils over because of his lack of production.
Despite that lack of production, the eye test and advanced stats told New Jersey Hughes was a star and their gamble paid off.
I wouldn't expect the kind of breakout year Hughes had after singing the extension from Byfield next season. But like Hughes, Byfield is playing much better than his production suggests.
Now it's about finding that level consistently. If he continues to do the things he's currently doing, the production will come.
This is also about more than just personal growth from Byfield, it's a testament to how important giving young players a chance high in the lineup is. From the moment he got that chance you could see his confidence grow and a new player emerge.
Todd McLellan has talked in the past about not giving young players "charity" high in the lineup. But there's a balance between not handing out charity, and giving players a fair chance at succeeding. Giving Byfield under 10 minutes a night and no power play time wasn't giving him a chance to succeed and wasn't doing much for his development.
Byfield's grabbed his opportunity with both hands and shouldn't return to the bottom six any time soon. When players like Gabe Vilardi and Trevor Moore return from injury, there are going to be difficult decisions to make, but Byfield shouldn't be a casualty of these decisions.