Exactly when the hockey season seriously begins — or if it ever ends — may be up for debate, though the Kings took another step toward the regular season by launching a rookie camp on Thursday.
He did this with a more complete group on the ice than he did at development camp earlier this summer, which includes 2020’s No. 2 overall pick, Quinton Byfield.
Due to a leg injury, Byfield was sidelined during development camp, as was another fellow center and top prospect Alex Turcot (number 5 overall in 2019), who underwent an appendectomy. Both are now back on the ice, and despite the sum of their top-class experience in six NHL games at Bayfield, the pair are relatively experienced in a rookie camp where few are participating for the first time.
Byfield said the Kings directed returning players to help them first through the experience, which now takes them to Arizona for exhibition games.
“I’m excited for that challenge, and will go there and play hockey again. I’m excited for everything here,” Byfield said.
The void left by the cancellation of the Ontario Hockey League campaign last season allowed some OHL junior prospects to move up to North America’s top minor professional league. Byfield and other age-ineligible prospects, such as winger Arthur Kaliyev, who is in the rookie camp after missing a development camp due to a personal affair, were allowed to play in the American Hockey League.
“Being able to play in the AHL last year at such a young age and being able to handle myself, it’s something that really helped me with my confidence,” Byfield said.
Byfield said his cup of coffee among the pros last year with the Kings, whose season went haywire en route to a third straight playoff miss, showed him just how fast, intense and heavy hockey can be in the NHL.
“During the summer, I just thought about those games and wanted to take as much as I could from those games, to see where I was and what I had to train for this summer,” Byfield said. “I’ve gained a little more weight. I’m working on my footwork. That’s what I’ve done this summer.”
Ontario Reigns coach John Wroblewski, who worked extensively with the byfield last season, said the route, angle, energy management and acceleration were the thrust points with the byfield. Wroblewski thought Byfield had gained confidence and progressed mentally, scoring goals as “a major AHL player”. Wroblewski said finishing was an area of the byfield’s game that he hoped would soon develop into a “killer mentality”.
Lesser known figures in the camp also include eight camp invitees and three players on AHL contracts.
Among the more prominent first-time attendees are Francesco Pinelli, the Kings’ second pick in the 2021 draft, and defenseman Brandt Clark, whom he picked last summer as his first pick for eighth overall. Clark said earlier this summer that gaining muscle was a top priority. He and Pinelli both had impressive moments in the development camp, although it seems unlikely the 18-year-old will see minutes at NHL level this year.
Clarke, however, is the first premium prospect on the King’s Blue Line as he replaced Drew Doughty second overall in 2008 and Thomas Hickey fourth a year earlier. Doughty won gold in his only World Junior Championships, and Hickey won gold in both, including the 2009 victory, during which he was the team’s captain.
Clarke was inspired by not joining last year’s Canadian team, but was in camp with the under-20 national team earlier this summer. He is set to play an important role for them this season and for the Kings in the near future. For now, he’s still a nascent around the Toyota Sports Performance Center.
“I just want to play my game. I just want to be a good teammate, listen to the coaches, be a good person and make a good impression for myself,” Clarke said at the development camp.
Despite forwards such as Samuel Fagemo, Rasmus Kupari and Tyler Madden hoping to challenge for the roster spot this coming year, the Kings chose to bring forth three legends, two of them, among their aging leadership group. To help bridge the gap and otherwise fresh-faced personnel. On defense, Shaun Durzee and Jordan Spence are two players in their early 20s trying to impress in the rookie camp.