Despite an impressive season on the top line, assisting Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe to stellar performances, many fans expressed dissatisfaction with Quinton Byfield. The focus centered on his meager three goals in 53 games. While fans clamored for more from Byfield, it’s crucial to consider the undisclosed injuries he grappled with last season.
During exit interviews, startling revelations emerged. Byfield had battled illness for a month early in the season, causing a loss of 20 pounds, weight he struggled to regain. In his own words, “Honestly, I don’t think I ever fully recovered throughout the year. I got close to where I wanted to be, but I was still a little lighter than what I came to camp at last year.”
Furthermore, Byfield disclosed that he had played nearly the entire season with two sprained wrists, emphasizing that these were not excuses but facts that shed light on his goal-scoring challenges.
Criticism for Byfield’s goal drought may have been warranted, but considering his struggles, it is equally important to acknowledge his resilience. As he enters this season, fully recovered and injury-free for the first time in his NHL career, there’s optimism surrounding Byfield’s potential.
Quinton Byfield’s skill has never been in question, particularly in the goalscoring department. His track record speaks volumes, with 61 goals in 109 OHL games and 21 in 59 AHL games. Now, he is adapting to the rigors of scoring in the NHL.
“I find you get your goals in different ways,” said Byfield when discussing some of the challenges of translating OHL and AHL success to the NHL. “There’s more stuff around the net in the higher levels, there’s not as many rush chances as there was in juniors. It’s more free-flowing (in juniors) guys don’t really know defense, not backchecking fully. Each level you go up, it definitely gets harder, the competition gets better, the defense gets better. It’s just trying to find the right spaces and watching as much video as possible to find the right spots I should be going too.”
Another reason for optimism lies in Byfield’s role. Adrian Kempe, who experienced a breakout season, attributed his success to finding a defined spot and role within the team. Byfield now has the opportunity to do the same on the first line.
“It feels good, just being able to come into camp each day knowing where I’m at,” said Byfield. “Just knowing where I’m at. It does feel really good, all the other camps, coming in, I don’t know if I’m going to play center, what line, who my wingers are. So, it’s definitely a good feeling. The comfort level is there and that’s very important.”
During camp, Byfield impressed the coaching staff, raising expectations for a stellar season. However, head coach Todd McLellan cautioned against complacency, emphasizing that Byfield must not become too comfortable in his position.
While it’s crucial not to overreact to training camp performances, Byfield appears to be on the right track. His impeccable health, peak physical condition, and a clearly defined role all bode well for his productivity.
“There’s good and then there’s risk with Q,” said McLellan. “The real good part is that he left last season with confidence and that’s a real good thing. He approached the summer and looks more like a full grown man, he’s bigger and stronger. He fits a role on a line right now. All of those things are positive. He’s picked up where he left off with his tenacity and his forecheck. He scored a couple goals in practice today he maybe wouldn’t have last year. Those are all the real positives. The risk is, he gets comfortable and starts to give it back. Some of those kids have to break through and elevate and we think he can do that. I think he believes he can do that and so far, signs indicate that he is doing that. But it’s early.”
The onus now falls squarely on Byfield’s shoulders, but optimism abounds. All indications point toward a standout season for the former second-overall pick.