EL SEGUNDO, CA — Left wings Dwight King and Jordan Nolan surprised everyone late last season by not only staying with the big club after they were recalled from the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League in early February 2012, but also by playing a key role in the Los Angeles Kings making the playoffs, and winning the Stanley Cup just a little over two months ago.
With the two having “graduated” from the AHL, and with serious doubts that center Andrei Loktionov is capable of producing consistently at the National Hockey League level, primarily due to his lack of size and strength, one young player could very well be the Kings’ top forward prospect, even though he has not yet played at the professional level.
That player is none other than center/right wing Tyler Toffoli, who could be the forward prospect with greatest potential to make an impact at the NHL level for the Kings.
Last season, Toffoli, who was selected by the Kings in the second round (47th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, scored 52 goals and tallied 48 assists for 100 points, with a +31 plus/minus rating, and 22 penalty minutes in 65 regular season games with the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League.
In the OHL playoffs, the 6-0, 186-pound native of Scarborough, Ontario scored eleven goals with seven assists for 18 points, with a -4 plus/minus rating, and 21 penalty minutes in 18 games.
As skilled as Toffoli is, he probably would have been a first round draft pick if not for his lack of attention to his strength and conditioning prior to his draft year.
“Tyler Toffoli—you’ll have to wait to see how things play out, but the knock on this kid was that he hadn’t started to take his conditioning as seriously as he could,” Michael Futa, Kings Co-Director of Amateur Scouting, told Frozen Royalty after the 2010 draft. “When I was in the Ontario Hockey League, I think he had 120 points or 75 goals, somewhere along those lines, as a kid just scratching the surface with regard to the importance of conditioning.”
“My scout from Owen Sound is his head coach, the same guy who [turned the Kings onto winger Wayne Simmonds],” Futa added. “He coaches him in Ottawa, and he just said that this kid is just scratching the surface when you start to look at the intangibles and the work ethic. I’m assuming that’s why he dropped to where we got him.”
Two summers later, Toffoli has added eight pounds to his frame, and has also been working on his speed and quickness.
“My first couple of strides has always been [a weakness],” he explained. “Everybody talks about it, but I’m definitely getting a lot better than where I was. I’m going to keep working on that this summer, and [on getting] stronger and faster.”
“[The Kings want me] to get quicker and faster, but they [haven’t] said much to me [about specific aspects of his game],” he elaborated. “They know that I know what I need to be better at, and I’ve got to get better at everything to play in the NHL. That’s why I’m not there yet.”
Nelson Emerson, who handles player development for the Kings, indicated that the their faith in Toffoli, and his sense of what he needs to focus on, is well-placed.
“The buy-in from this kid has been tremendous,” said Emerson. “We’ve had players who have gone through our [system] for the last five or six years, and this kid has bought in from day one. We’re excited.”
“The last couple of years, we’ve had to work with him,” added Emerson. “Now he’s turning pro, and he has been a tremendous student, just from the hard work off-ice. I’m talking off-ice, in the gym, being a pro, putting his work in, doing all the extra stuff that we do, as far as development goes. His habits? Tremendous, and we’ve seen what he did on the ice in junior. So now it’s time for him to move on.”
Emerson said that Toffoli has made great strides since his draft year in terms of growing up.
“It’s maturity,” Emerson emphasized. “They’re coming in as 18-year-olds, and they don’t understand, and they don’t see it. Now, they’ve had tremendous leaders in front of them who are showing them the way.”
“Tyler Toffoli follows right along that progression,” Emerson added. “He has learned how to do it now. He has learned how to train. He has watched the players ahead of him, who have been real pros, and he’s on a good path.”
Another part of that progression has been Toffoli’s improved defensive play, along with added strength that has helped him to win more physical battles.
That Toffoli made those improvements last season without seeing his offensive numbers decline considerably is very, very significant.
“I played a totally different way this [past] season,” he noted. “I didn’t have as many goals or points, but my two-way game was way better than it was two seasons ago. I felt I did a lot more on the ice. I made a lot more plays, and won a lot more battles, which is what they wanted me to do.”
Toffoli is destined to play in the AHL with the Monarchs next season, but that is not what he has in mind.
“I’m going to come [into training camp], work as hard as I can, and show them that I don’t want to play in the American league,” Toffoli stressed. “Hopefully, I won’t give them that option.”
But as noted author John Steinbeck wrote in the classic novel, Of Mice and Men, “…The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry,” and with the Kings entire roster returning in 2012-13, (except for right wing Scott Parse, who was not re-signed), Toffoli’s plan is pretty much guaranteed to go awry.
Despite being optimistic, Toffoli knows that his chances of making the big club’s roster are slimmer than slim. Nevertheless, his sights remain set on the target, no matter how long the wait might be.
“My goal is to play in the NHL, and hopefully, one day, I can do that,” he said.
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