LOS ANGELES — A little over two years ago, right wing Tyler Toffoli sat with his family in the stands at Staples Center in Los Angeles, believing that he would be selected in the first round of the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft.
As it turned out, he was passed over by all thirty NHL teams on the first day of the draft, primarily because teams had concerns about his conditioning and his dedication to improving in that area.
“The knock on this kid was that he hadn’t started to take his conditioning as seriously as he could,” Los Angeles Kings Co-Director of Amateur Scouting Michael Futa said at the time.
Toffoli was selected in the second round (47th overall) of the 2010 draft by the Kings, who pushed the 6-0, 178-pound native of Scarborough, Ontario to improve his conditioning, along with the rest of his game.
Since he was drafted in June 2010, Toffoli has taken some huge strides in the right direction, making rather dramatic improvements in his strength and conditioning. In fact, Toffoli now weighs 195 pounds, adding 17 pounds to his frame since his draft day. As a result, he is now able to do more than hold his own in physical battles along the boards and in the corners.
“I’m way stronger than I was,” the 20-year-old right winger told Frozen Royalty in an exclusive interview. “I’m a lot older, I’ve matured [physically] from when I was drafted. I want to say that I was a little boy [back then], and now I’m a lot stronger.”
“I’ve definitely worked on it more,” added Toffoli, who has scored nine goals and has added four assists for 13 points in 17 regular season games with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate) this season. “It’s one of the things I had to work on after getting drafted. It was one of my weaknesses, but I think I’ve improved a lot. I just have to keep getting stronger.”
“[Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi’s] whole philosophy is about battles. Getting pucks out along the boards, and winning all those battles. I’ve been working on that ever since I was drafted. I’ve been getting better at that. I feel a lot more comfortable along the wall, making plays, and taking hits to make plays. I think that’s been going well this season, I just have to stay strong, and be strong on the puck.”
Toffoli’s improved strength and conditioning has made quite the impression on Monarchs head coach Mark Morris.
“He’s a strong kid,” said Morris. “Those guys who are real good with their hands—sometimes, the reason they’re good with their hands is that they haven’t been blessed with an enormous amount of foot speed. I look [back] at guys like [former Boston Bruins great] Terry O’Reilly. Guys like that are still able to score because they’re so strong.”
Toffoli’s offensive abilities were already well-known prior to him joining the Monarchs, and were among the reasons the Kings selected him in the 2010 draft. But now, with his added strength, he may already be the Monarchs’ top forward.
“I’m getting to appreciate him more and more each day, when I watch how coachable he is,” Morris said about Toffoli, who recorded the first hat trick of his professional career in a 5-1 victory over the Portland Pirates on November 20. “The thing that I’ve noticed about Tyler is that he’s got an unbelievable release, and that innate sense of when to shoot the puck.”
“[His shot] is a bullet,” Morris added. “He can really let it go. He can also make plays in tight areas. As his skating improves, he’s going to be quicker to spots, and his intelligence is going to work in his favor. He really is a dynamic player on the power play. He seems to pass the puck and shoot the puck at the right times.”
Although he is only 17 games into his first season in the AHL, Toffoli appears to be making the transition from junior hockey to the AHL quite well.
“It’s just making the adjustment to the [AHL], and [developing] chemistry with a new team,” said Toffoli, who ranks 15th in the AHL in goals scored, and second on the Monarchs in overall scoring. “I haven’t played with any of these guys before, so it’s been different, but it’s been going well. The chemistry is coming along pretty nicely.”
“[There’s] bigger guys, stronger guys, it’s quicker, and it’s a lot better hockey than in junior,” added Toffoli. “But it’s been what I expected, and it’s been good so far.”
Toffoli indicated that although he has adjusted well so far, moving up to the AHL level has been anything but easy.
“You have to be moving more,” he stressed. “You can’t be standing in one spot, and you have to be working harder in the corners. You can’t be waiting around for things to happen. You have to make them happen yourself. That’s the thing I’ve been adjusting to the most, but so far, I think it’s been going pretty good, and I’ve been playing well.
“I don’t think I’ve really struggled,” he added. “It’s just [making] the adjustment to working in the corners against the bigger guys, and just getting to the net. The defensemen are stronger and quicker. They box you out a lot better than in junior, [so it is more difficult to] get to the net, and get your stick on the ice to tip pucks in, or get rebounds.”
“I feel like I’m doing a good job of shooting the puck, getting rebounds for the other guys, and creating opportunities to score goals.”
Even with all the positives in his development, there is still room for improvement, most notably, his skating.
“[The Kings] want me to be more consistent, be good on the walls, and get my feet moving,” Toffoli noted. “When I get my feet moving, I’m a lot more effective when I get open.”
“In junior, I had a lot more time, so you don’t really start skating,” Toffoli added. “Now, you get the puck, and someone’s coming at you. It’s a big difference. If I can get the puck and start skating right away, it’ll create a lot more space for me. When I have more space, I can make better plays.”
Morris indicated that Toffoli’s skating is improving.
“I think his skating has improved immensely over time,” said Morris. “He’s quicker off the mark, he’s quicker to stop on pucks, and on the transition [between offense and defense]. He [also] seems to have a pretty good grasp on what’s he’s doing in the defensive end.”
As with every other young prospect who is fresh out of Canadian junior leagues, Toffoli has also had to adjust to being on his own for the first time, rather than having a billet family taking care of his cooking and cleaning.
“It’s different, having to do your own laundry, and cook your own food,” he indicated. “It’s definitely been weird, but it’s been going well so far.”
Toffoli said that he leaves most of the cooking duties to his roommate, forward Brian O’Neill.
“He does most of the cooking,” said Toffoli. “I do most of the cleaning. I know how to cook. It’s just a matter of me getting down to it and doing it.”
Raw Audio Interview with Tyler Toffoli
(10:26; Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
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