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Nifty goal aside, Kings forward Quinton Byfield is putting together a breakout season

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Quinton Byfield went viral on social media Tuesday night with his highlight-reel goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The reality though is that it was further proof that the Los Angeles Kings forward is putting together a breakout season, and showing the potential that made him the second overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft.

The 21-year old right wing is third on the team with 18 goals and fourth in scoring with 42 points. Of NHL skaters age 21 or younger, only St. LouisJake Neighbours has more goals this season than Byfield with 19.

Coming into this season, Byfield had eight goals and 34 points in 99 regular-season games in his first three seasons.

“I feel good with the puck right now. The confidence is definitely there knowing that I can make plays and trusting my shot. If I shoot it, I have a good chance of scoring,” Byfield said Tuesday night after the Kings' 5-1 victory over the Blue Jackets.

Byfield is a quicker skater than his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame suggests. He showed off his speed in scoring his goal Tuesday when he got the puck off the draw between Pierre-Luc Dubois and Boone Jenner in Columbus’ offensive zone and quickly skated up ice.

Byfield appeared to not have an angle to the net until he put the puck through Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski’s legs near the left faceoff circle in Los Angeles’ offensive zone. Byfield regained possession when he kick passed the puck to his own stick, and put a backhand past Elvis Merzlikins’ glove despite being on one knee when he shot it.

Even though it was top hockey highlight of the night — as well as being a Goal of the Year candidate — it is not Byfield's favorite score. That came on Dec. 7 in Montreal when Byfield drove past Canadiens defenseman Kaiden Guhle, cut across the goal crease and deked goalie Sam Montembeault before putting it in the net.

“This one (against Columbus) was more of a skill play, and the one in Montreal was more just taking on power,” said Byfield, who has six goals and 12 points in his past 10 games. “They’re two different goals, but doing it in the Bell Centre, I think is a little bit more special, just because it’s a huge hockey market and being from Canada and growing up, watching those games and seeing the crowd.”

Byfield said he likely would have dumped the puck into the offensive zone last season when faced with a one-on-two situation, but he now has enough faith in his game, as well as experience against the rest of the league, in knowing how to get to the net.

“He took a little bit of flack early in his career, but is just starting to get his legs going,” Kings interim coach Jim Hiller said. “As a young player, you just got to get out there and establish yourself as a dependable player that works. Once you do that, then the coach gives you a little bit more freedom and you gain a little more confidence.”

Byfield has been on the top line for most of the season, but he has played the past four games on the third line with Pierre-Luc Dubois, which in turn has helped Dubois start to show signs of turning around his game.

Dubois, acquired from Winnipeg and signed to an eight-year, $68 million contract during the offseason, scored twice in Tuesday night's win and has three goals and six points in the six games since Hiller replaced Todd McLellan as coach.

“He does a little bit of everything out there. He can skate, pass and shoot, all those things you can see. But he works really hard too," Dubois said. "He forechecks and can break plays up sometimes where you think the other team is going to get it and they chip it or miss a pass and you can keep it in the offensive zone. He’s just going to get better and better, but he’s been fun to play with.”

Byfield also has 10 multi-point games, tied for second in the league among players 21 or younger. He is already the first Kings player since Drew Doughty in 2010-11 with at least 40 points in a season at age 21 or younger.

He is also two shy of becoming the third Kings player in the least 35 years with at least 20 goals at age 21 or younger.

Byfield will need to continue to play well if the Kings are going to make a late-season run. They have won four straight and are 5-1 under Hiller following a stretch where Los Angeles only won three of its last 16 games before the All-Star break, which led to McLellan's dismissal.

Going into Thursday night against Nashville, the Kings are the first wild card in the Western Conference, but are still within striking distance of second place in the Pacific Division, which would give them home ice in the first round.

“There's going to be very hard games coming down the homestretch here, but it’s gonna be a lot of fun,” Byfield said. “We know what we have in here. We know we can keep climbing the standings and get back on track.”

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

Joe Reedy, The Associated Press