EL SEGUNDO, CA — The Los Angeles Kings have completed nine on-ice days of their 2011 Training Camp, and, with their third pre-season game coming up tonight against the Anaheim Ducks (6:30 PM PDT, Staples Center), two of their young prospects have already turned some heads.
Center prospect Tyler Toffoli, the Kings’ second round selection (47th overall) in the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft, has taken some big steps forward in his development over the past year, enough to win the scoring title in the Ontario Hockey League with 57 goals and 51 assists for 108 points in 68 regular season games with the Ottawa 67’s.
Although the 19-year-old native of Scarborough, Ontario got off to a bit of a slow start in the split-squad pre-season game at Phoenix on September 21, Toffoli was able to turn things up as the game went on.
“I was really nervous at the beginning,” said Toffoli. “The first shift, [Kings left wing] Ethan [Moreau] scored. That was kind of a big boost for me. It got me really excited.”
“After that, as each shift went by, I kept getting better,” added Toffoli. “I thought, in the third period, that’s when I played my best.”
“I just started playing my game. I wasn’t trying to do too much, and I was keeping things simple, which is what I was supposed to do, and I thought I did it well.”
Although he played well, Toffoli is not expected to be in the lineup tonight against Anaheim.
“I always want to play, but I just have to work hard every day,” he said. “It’s their decision.”
“I think I’ve done well so far,” he added. “I’ve done everything they’ve wanted me to do. I’ve worked hard, I got myself in better condition, and I played well in the game.”
Better conditioning was the biggest improvement in Toffoli’s game last season, and the Kings coaches and management are getting an up close and personal look at it now.
“We’ve seen it right from the start of the training camp, and in the two games in the rookie camp,” said head coach Terry Murray. “He’s a guy who shows a lot of composure, he’s very strong on the puck, and his skating has improved dramatically from last year when I first saw him.”
“Now, he’s getting that confidence that some players get early, [while others] need to go through some time to get it,” added Murray. “Right now, he’s strong on the puck, playing very confidently, he’s really seeing the ice, making plays, and taking pucks to the net.”
“When you hear about all that stuff, and you see it, you get a little bit excited. There’s a lot of potential there for being a good pro.”
As reported in this space on September 19, defenseman prospect Thomas Hickey, selected by the Kings in the first round (fourth overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, was noticed by the coaching staff right from the start of training camp.
The 22-year-old native of Calgary, Alberta was even more noticeable in their split-squad pre-season game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Staples Center on September 21, when he was one of the best players on the ice.
“I got my bearings, and, once I got my feet under me, everything slowed down,” Hickey said about his play last season. “After a long summer, I played well, I played physical, and I played my position well, so I was happy with it.”
“I think there’s a lot more control [in his game],” Hickey added. “Just learning the pro game, especially defense. On the offensive blue line, I used to move way too much, a lot more than you need to. I’m much more conservative now. I can use my energy in short bursts, to step up to hit, or make plays, and the pucks always come to you as opposed to using a lot more energy and not being efficient at all.”
“If you look at any of the veteran defensemen here, or around the league, they certainly try hard, but they conserve their energy. It looks like, ‘hey, he’s not doing as much,’ but they’re just smarter. As a young guy, you want to take parts of that, and conserve more energy for when you really need to turn the jets on.”
What Hickey described above is exactly what the Kings are seeing now.
“[He’s doing] a much better job,” said Murray. “Thomas Hickey’s game, and what I saw last night [against Phoenix on September 21], is a dramatic improvement from the first exhibition game that I coached, which was against Phoenix—the same kind of a game—my first year.”
“[In that game], he was holding onto the puck too long, trying to fake everybody, trying to freeze people, and turning pucks over,” added Murray. “Last night, I thought he moved the puck quickly, it was off his stick at the right time, fast enough for the forward to maintain his speed, and get on the attack.”
“On the other side of it, something I didn’t see very often [in past years], was that strength in one-on-one plays along the boards. He was pinning some guys, sealing guys off, and closing fast on defensive zone, low, three-on-three coverage. Positive steps there. He’s a player we’ll continue to see and watch through the training camp to see if there’s development that keeps pushing [him] up the ladder.”
Hickey spent the summer back home in Calgary, taking some time off to recharge his batteries before getting back to work.
“I didn’t take a longer break, but I took a different approach to training,” he explained. “I was down here all last summer. The [former] strength coach [Tim Adams] is very good, and he knows what he’s doing, but, for me, I needed to be home to refresh the mind. The workload was the same, the amount of effort you put in is the same. It’s just a different style of doing it.”
“I was saying the other day, I love playing hockey,” Hickey elaborated. “You love being at the rink. But, at the same time, to really appreciate it, you have to take a little time away. Being back home with family and friends helped me refresh that. Before too long, you’re hungry to get back to the rink, and you wish training camp was a week away, and I felt that way quite early in the summer.”
Like the rest of the Kings’ best young prospects, Hickey is also hungry to make the big club’s roster, even though fellow defenseman prospect Viatcheslav Voynov is coming off an All-Star season with the Monarchs last year. That, along with the fact that he is a right-hand shot, gives Voynov, who would replace contract holdout Drew Doughty on the power play, an edge over Hickey, and other defenseman prospects.
Despite that, Hickey is not discouraged.
“I’m concerned about myself,” he stressed. “Slava and I are teammates, and you always want your teammates to do well, because you want your team to win.”
“As far as me making this team [is concerned], it’s going to be [based on] what I do,” he added. “[It’s going to be] if I play myself onto the team, not other factors, so I’m just concerned about taking care of myself, and showing them that I can fill in right now.”
Clearing The Air
On September 19, one of the Kings’ top prospects, center Andrei Loktionov, discussed his future.
When asked for his thoughts about the strong possibility that he could be assigned to Manchester to start the season, Loktionov declared, “I will be so mad. I’m not thinking about Manchester. My plan is to play here.”
As stated in that September 19 story, Loktionov’s English language skills leave a lot to be desired, and that is putting it mildly. As such, without the opportunity to follow up at the time, no firm conclusion could be reached on what he meant by his comments.
Would he be mad at the Kings management and coaches if he were assigned to Manchester, resulting in him not playing well there, or worse, refusing to report and, perhaps, opting to play elsewhere?
The other option would be that he only meant that he would be disappointed and upset with himself.
Loktionov cleared the air on September 22.
“I’ll be mad about me, about myself,” said Loktionov. “But I don’t want to talk about Manchester. I want to stay here, just focus on here.”
The 21-year-old native of Voskresensk, Russia was one of the Kings’ best players in their split-squad pre-season game against the Coyotes at Staples Center on September 21.
“I played good, actually, maybe, in the first period,” he said. “But then I slowed down. Then, I started playing good again in the third period. I think it was a good [first game].”
But Loktionov did not think he was one of the Kings’ best players in the game.
“I don’t think so,” said Loktionov. “I played my first game in a long time. I think I played, last time, February 28 [due to injury]. I think I played not too bad.”
“I think I played good offensively,” added Loktionov. “We had a lot of good chances to score, we had a lot of shots. I think we played good in the defensive zone, too.”
Loktionov is expected to get another long look tonight against Anaheim.
“We’ll see how things go,” said Murray. “I liked his game [against Phoenix]. He’s a very good hockey player, and a very good person who has shown great growth in a couple of years.”
“There’s a lot of hockey here in front of us,” added Murray. “There’s a lot of games to play, and he’s going to be a part of that. We’ll see how it all unfolds later on.”
Power Play Looks Better In Split-Squad Game
In the split-squad pre-season game against Phoenix at Staples Center on September 21, the Kings power play, which was a major sore point last season, displayed improved puck movement, and, perhaps more significant, movement by the players.
“Early, I liked it a lot, and it wasn’t the fact that we scored and it was called back, and then we did score a goal on the power play,” Murray explained. “It was the movement away from the puck that was very good. That’s something that we talked about from the end of the year last year, about the importance of getting five people playing a team game in that situation more consistently. I liked the rotations, I liked the puck movement.”
Voynov made an impression on the power play, scoring the goal.
“I thought Voynov was very good on the back end,” said Murray. “He’s a young guy who I don’t know very well. He’d been injured. He had a couple of training camps, and I went to watch him down in the American Hockey League, in the playoffs, a year ago, and he played OK. But he’s a much better hockey player [now]. He wants the puck on his stick, and he made a lot of good things happen.”
Raw audio interviews from the 2011 LA Kings Training Camp
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Thomas Hickey (3:34)
Andrei Loktionov (2:15)
Tyler Toffoli (1:03)
Terry Murray (9:21)
John Hoven of Mayor’s Manor contributed to this story.
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