Kings First Line Reaching New Heights With Byfield
Regardless of your opinion on Byfield, he’s undoubtedly improved the Kings’ top line.
The Los Angeles Kings have been trying to solve the puzzle of who to put on Anze Kopitar's wing for a long time.
They found one piece last season with the emergence of Adrian Kempe but were still searching for a proper top-line left winger.
Despite Kempe leading the team in goals and Kopitar points last season, it felt like the first line lacked something.
Well, they've found that something from an unlikely source.
Star prospect Quinton Byfield — who's never played wing at a professional level — is the answer.
Since Byfield was elevated to the top line against the Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 29, Kempe and Kopitar have combined for 61 points in 28 games.
It's been the most productive stretch for either player by a wide margin.
Kempe is now on pace for career highs in both goals and points, while Kopitar is on pace for his best season since 2017-18.
And it's not just Kopitar and Kempe playing great and carrying Byfield either.
With Byfield this season, the first line has outscored opponents 22-8 and out-chanced opponents 73-55, according to naturalstatrick.com.
Without Byfield, they've been outscored 20-18 and out-chanced 104-95.
Surely, they are given more favorable zone starts which have inflated those numbers right?
With Byfield, the first line has started just 42.18% of shifts in the offensive zone, compared to 50.33% without Byfield.
This line is taking on defensive faceoffs and still producing at a fantastic rate.
Their 72.4% goals for percentage, according to MoneyPuck.com, ranks them sixth in the league.
They're a top-10 line for production league-wide while starting most shifts 200 feet from the opposition's net.
They're a perfect combination of skills for one another.
What first sticks out is the size. Kempe is the "smallest" player on the line at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds.
Having to deal with three players who all have the kind of size and skill combo of these three players will cause problems for anyone.
Then you add the speed of Kempe and Byfield. They are able to back off defenders and create space for Kopitar.
Kopitar with time and space to operate in will always do a ton of damage.
He's returned to being a true dual threat offensively with the extra time on the puck. On pace for his fourth 30-goal season and 76 points.
Kempe's strengths are still the same. He's an excellent skater with a high-end shot. He's improved his overall game this season too.
He isn't a defensive black hole anymore and is showing off a bit more playmaking ability.
Kempe and Byfield can also do a lot of the dirty work on the forecheck and along the boards for Kopitar.
Along the boards is where Byfield has really shined on this line. He's beginning to use his size more effectively in the NHL in these areas.
That ability to win battles is something both coaches and linemates have highlighted every time they're asked about Byfield.
"He's had the tools, he's just using them more," said Todd McLellan win asked about Byfield winning more board battles. "He's more confident in those situations, I think he's on his feet more. He values a lot of those little things now that don't end up on the scoresheet. And eventually, and it is happening now, he's starting to end up on the scoresheet. It's amazing how it works."
It's also something Byfield has worked on a lot since moving to the wing.
"I think it's always been a part of my game," said Byfield. "Just more so, playing center you're not really stuck on the wall too much. But as a winger, you're relied on to get the puck out quite a bit and I've done a lot of work with DJ (Kings skills coach Derik Johnson) just all the plays, all the options that can come from off the wall plays. So, I take advantage of that so I think it's just translating to rush chances for our line and for our team."
Todd's comment about Byfield "valuing the little things that don't end up on the scoresheet" stands out. It's something he talks about often with young players and something he's mentioned as crucial in Kempe's emergence over the last two seasons.
It's also something Byfield has noticed in his game recently.
"Yeah, I think coming up from junior hockey, you don't have to do all that stuff," said Byfield. "It's more just off the rush, plays like that. You still get off-rush opportunities, but more so, you have to grind the team down. So, I think forechecking is huge. Our lines been pretty successful on the forecheck. Just kind of keeping teams to one side and being able to allow our D to step in on the pinches as well. We're just a five-man unit out there."
When you combine an elite player in Kopitar, an elite goal scorer in Kempe and a young player who's finding their feet in the NHL and doing those little things to help his team in Byfield. It's no surprise this line has been so successful.
"The length of Q (Byfield) and Kempe and their intensity on the forecheck to loosen pucks and to keep plays alive," said McLellan on what makes that line so successful. "And Kopi's always been excellent defensively, but those other two have really committed as well. So, break up a lot of plays and get going the other way. (It) makes them a dangerous line."
The one thing that line is missing is goals from Byfield. He's struggled to find the net this season and is heavily underperforming his expected goals with -5.4. But that will come with time.
His role on that line isn't to be a big-time goal scorer — both Kempe and Kopitar have that covered. But if he can start finishing his chances, that line adds another element.
And Byfield comes one step closer to fulfilling his potential.
Regardless of your opinion on Byfield, he's undoubtedly improved the Kings' top line. And is starting to make strides toward becoming the player the Kings drafted second overall in 2020.
The Kings can be confident this line will compete with every first line in hockey right now. And there's still room to grow.