Saturday, October 1, 2022
Home CALIFORNIA Kings’ top prospects focus on the process and progress

Kings’ top prospects focus on the process and progress

EL SEGUNDO –– At Friday’s second day of Kings training camp, there were plenty of smiles and head nods to go around, along with another round of scrutinous gazes for top prospects Quinton Byfield and Brandt Clarke.

Though Alex Turcotte remained sidelined with the lingering effects of two concussions sustained last season, fellow top-10 picks Byfield and Clarke have participated fully in both scrimmages. Byfield has lined up between his former Ontario Reign linemate Arthur Kaliyev and a reinvigorated Alex Iafallo. Meanwhile, Clarke has been paired with the Kings’ eldermost defenseman, 36-year-old Alex Edler, who will likely join Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty in the 1,000-games-played club this season.

“You can’t really get this anywhere else, it’s like learning from the very best. There are guys who have played a thousand games on this team,” said Clarke, who intently soaked in everything from Edler’s pre-faceoff reads to Doughty’s media availability. “The veteran presence is just so wise on this team and they’re so good at explaining what they see on the ice.”

Mikey Anderson, who said he “bet on himself” in signing a one-year deal ahead of his third full NHL season, could still relate to Clarke’s enthusiasm around Doughty in particular.

“You can be a 10-year guy and you still feel like a rookie next to him,” Anderson said. “It’s fun, you get a good mix. We’ve got the old and we’ve got the new coming in, so it’s fun to get to know them. I’ve gotten to know Drew over the last three years now and now I’m getting to know Brandt a little bit, it’s fun to kind of see the comparisons.”

Clarke, 19, took part in a high-scoring scrimmage, which notably did not feature center Phillip Danault, who was day-to-day due to what McLellan described as a “muscle issue.” Clarke and Byfield each recorded assists, with Byfield’s coming after he won a faceoff to set up a goal by defenseman Sean Walker.

While Day 1’s tilt went to a shootout tied at 2, Friday’s action saw six goals a side, including a beautiful give-and-go play that saw Clarke earn a primary assist on former New York Islanders forward Alan Quine’s goal.

“I think that’s one of my best assets, being able to think the game and see stuff, regardless of the speed, being able to still make my plays, realize where I have time and where I have to rush myself,” Clarke said. “I see stuff out there and I want to attack the holes, I don’t want to sit back because I know where everyone is on the ice. I think that’s one of my strong suits and it’s helping me hang around with these guys.”

McLellan said Clarke displayed creativity, elusiveness and imagination from a young age. He said Clarke has continued to hone those qualities while also working on his defense and details. While McLellan evaluated Clarke’s play thus far in camp positively, he stopped short of discussing Clarke’s future beyond the immediate.

“We’re really looking forward to him playing against high-end NHL players and watching what happens. Other than that, there is no other plan at this point,” McLellan said.

Byfield, on the other hand, played in 40 NHL games last year and six the year prior, setting up the coming season as a significant stepping stone. The second overall pick in 2020 saw the players drafted on either side of him make their moves. Top pick Alexis Lafreniere scored 15 of his 31 points last season in the final two months of the campaign for the New York Rangers. The Ottawa Senators’ No. 3 overall selection, Tim Stutzle, was rewarded this past offseason with an eight-year contract extension worth more than $66 million.

For Byfield, 20, there was lost development time to the OHL’s canceled campaign two seasons ago and a broken ankle he sustained during last year’s preseason. Still, he said he is looking to produce tangible results in 2022-23.

“My whole life I’ve been an offensive player through minor hockey, the OHL and even in the American league, I would produce as well,” Byfield said. “So, I think that’s something that I really want to do, be more loose out there and make some plays, be more confident with the puck.”

Byfield declined to set a goal or benchmark for himself statistically, however.

“I think it’s more of a ‘trust the process’ sort of thing. I was kind of feeling the puck a little bit more, holding onto it and making plays,” he said. “I know I can make plays, so I just need to be more confident in myself and in my game. The rest will follow.”

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