LOS ANGELES — Scoring 28 goals with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League this season, right wing prospect Tyler Toffoli was so good in the AHL, that he was named to the AHL’s All-Rookie Team on April 10, and as the Outstanding Rookie on April 12.
Even more impressive is that Toffoli was so good that he received those accolades even though he has been with the National Hockey League’s Los Angeles Kings since March 10.
With the Monarchs, Toffoli played on a line with fellow Kings prospects, forwards Linden Vey and Tanner Pearson, and they scorched the rest of the AHL.
“It was just something where I think we’re all smart players, skilled players, and [each of us] brings something different to the line,” said Vey, who was selected by the Kings in the fourth round (96th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. “We kind of complement each other, and for the time Toffoli was here, we just went on a run.”
Although Vey has scored twenty goals this season, and is currently sixth in the AHL in overall scoring (just one point out of second place), with 43 assists, he was usually the playmaker on that line, setting up Toffoli and Pearson.
“Vey is a real easy player to play with,” said Pearson. “He sees the ice so well, and makes such good plays. You pretty much just have to go to the net, and he’ll put the puck on your stick.”
“He’s doing everything,” added Pearson. “He’s so defensively sound, and he’s such a threat in the offensive zone. He’s not really a shooter, per se, but he can always shoot the puck, and he loves to pass. He makes everybody come to him, [opening things] up for other people. He can see that so well, and then, make a pass.”
“He just uses his smarts. He goes to the open ice, he makes real smart plays, and knows where to get the puck—he knows how to get the puck in a certain spot. He’s a great player.”
Those who have followed Vey’s career since his days with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League, and especially since he was drafted by the Kings, are probably raising their eye brows and asking, “since when was Linden Vey defensively sound?”
Indeed, like so many highly-skilled forwards coming out of junior hockey, Vey did not think much about playing defense. Even last season, his first in the AHL, defense was an afterthought.
But this season, Vey has turned over a new leaf.
“Linden Vey has had a tremendous season, on the offensive side,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “Slowly, but surely, we got him to learn things on the defensive side of the game. He’s getting better. We still have a ways to go.”
“What happens at the AHL level is getting guys to understand that if you play good defense, and you learn how to defend, now you’re a 200-foot player, instead of a field goal kicker who comes on with a single [purpose],” added Morris. “To become a complete hockey player, and a guy who can play on any one of the four lines, this is part of the learning curve.”
Vey explained that in junior hockey, a player can get away with not paying much attention to defense.
“In junior, you’re able to ‘cheat,’” said Vey. “I think that’s the biggest thing—for me, it’s about being on the right side of the puck. That’s something we’ve been working on the whole year, and it’s also changing my mindset. When you’re a younger guy, all you want to do is score. You’ve got to realize that you’ve got to be able to play in all areas, and all situations.”
“The biggest thing the coaches stressed for me, coming into this year, was that they wanted to me to become more of a factor in each and every game,” added Vey. “The guys I’ve been playing with makes it a lot easier.”
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that as soon as the 2012-13 season began, Vey suddenly figured it all out. In fact, early in the season, Vey had a bit of a heart-to-heart talk with Morris and Kings assistant coach John Stevens.
“It’s been a steady process of getting him to want to be a good defender,” Morris noted. “I remember meeting with him and John Stevens early in the season. We were trying to get him to appreciate the fact that if you want to play big minutes, you’ve got to want to be a good defender. I’m not so sure he thought it was all that important. He’d been a one-dimensional guy, and he didn’t understand. But after missing shifts, or not being out there after giving up a goal, I think he started to figure it out.”
Indeed, Vey found himself on the bench, a tactic Morris refers to as a teaching tool.
“The best teacher is the bench,” Morris explained. “It’s the best teacher there is, and he’s one of those guys who wants to be out there every other shift. We roll four lines most nights, but if he misses a shift or two, or if he doesn’t compete hard for a face-off that he lost, or if he lollygags on a backcheck, he knows he’s going to pay a consequence for it.”
“He’s a guy who had not embraced that role, to become a better defender,” Morris elaborated. “Slowly, but surely, he’s getting there, and it’s starting to become more and more apparent, as you look at the stat sheet, because the better defender you are, the more times you’re going to have offensive chances. I don’t think he fully grasped that concept.”
“You’re playing against older, stronger guys in the American Hockey League. You can’t play ‘poke-and-go’ hockey. You’ve got to defend first, [then] create, and use those God-given talents.”
Vey has begun to figure that out.
“This year, I’ve spent a lot less time in the defensive zone,” he observed. “The coaches sat me down, and I finally realized that less time you spend in the defensive zone, the better the job you do there, the more scoring chances, [and you get] more time in the offensive zone. That’s really helped my game, offensively.”
“Now [Coach Morris] is trusting me to be on the ice at all times of a game, and that’s something you want to do, as a player,” he added. “You want to be trusted in every situation. I know I’ve still got a ways to go in every area, but I’m improving, and that’s all that matters.”
At 6-0, 183 pounds, Vey, 21, will never be a power forward, and his lack of strength will likely always be an issue, to some degree. But all indications are that he has made great strides in this aspect of his game.
“[Strength has] always been something that I’ve lacked,” Vey admitted. “This past summer, I really focused on working on my strength and speed, and that’s really benefitted me. It’s allowed me to control the game a lot more.”
“I’ve always been a guy who wanted the puck, and has been able to hold onto the puck,” Vey added. “[Added strength] has allowed me to play my game more. At times, I can really hold onto the puck now, as opposed to last year [when] I got knocked off [the puck] more.”
“You don’t see Linden Vey get knocked down,” said Morris. “He’s strong on the puck, and if he wants it, he’ll win puck battles.”
Vey is listed a right wing, but he has been playing at the center position this season. As such, face-offs were an area of concern.
“He’s improving on face-offs—that’s an area where, if you’re a go-to, number one center, when you can win those draws, that’s only going to play to your advantage,” Morris stressed. “He’s played alongside two first-year players who think the game the way he does, and when they’re winning face-offs, they’re scoring goals.”
Morris indicated that the line of Vey between Toffoli and Pearson was something special.
“They make a lot of tic-tac-toe plays,” said Morris. “They see things that, most of us who were plumbers, would never even imagine, and sometimes, it’s frustrating when those plays don’t work out for them. But when they score on them, you may be yelling, ‘no!’ from the bench, but then you’re patting’em on the back a few seconds later when it’s in the back of the net.”
“I just got some good chemistry with my line mates,” Vey said. “Mark trusted us, and gave us more and more ice time as the year went on. Pearson, Toffoli, and I, as well as Andreoff, found some chemistry, and we’ve just been rolling with it.”
Vey’s line quickly drew the top defensive pairs and top defensive lines, game in, and game out, but that did not stop them.
“Toffoli, Vey and Pearson became the top line, and teams all keyed on them, so they learned to play in a tough environment,” said Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi. “They moved right to the top, and [defenses] were going right after’em.”
“That’s a good sign, because teams knew they were good, and they handled it,” added Lombardi. “That was the good thing about having three, twenty-year-olds on the same line. They’re drawing the toughest checkers. [Opposing teams] are going after them, but they’re holding up.”
Vey credits having a year of AHL experience under his belt, along with improved consistency, for his play this season.
“The biggest thing for me has always been consistency,” he said. “Last year, I showed flashes that I could play, but the consistency wasn’t there last year.”
“The big thing is confidence,” he added. “I’ve got a lot more confidence this year. It’s something that stems from, not only the guys you’re playing with, and the success you have, but also being much more mature, stronger, and knowing the league.”
But for Vey, consistency is a double-edged sword, as it is also the biggest aspect of his game that he struggles with.
“Anytime you play 76 games, it’s tough to be consistent,” he emphasized. “I always go back to that, and just to be a player who’s good every night. That’s the biggest thing I struggle with—being consistent.”
“It’s gotten better over the years, especially from last year to this year,” he added. “Like the coaches always tell me, you want to be a factor every night. That’s something you’ve got to continue to work at. They’ve stressed [consistency] and the defensive zone [play].”
Becoming a player who can play all 200 feet of the rink and improving his strength are also on his agenda.
“When you get up to the NHL level, you’ve got to be able to play in every situation, and in all zones,” said Vey. “You’ve got to continue to work at everything, but the defensive game, and the strength part, [are] huge for me.””
Lombardi pointed to some healthy competition between line mates as a factor in Vey’s progress this season.
“Linden Vey’s come a long way, [in terms of] becoming a pro,” said Lombardi. “It’s the same thing as Tyler. First thing after the  draft, he couldn’t do one push-up or pull-up, and was proud of it. It was like, ‘what do I have to do this for?’”
“It’s a tribute to the development guys,” added Lombardi. “What you see is maturity as a man, as well as being a player, and what’s happened is that they’re pushing each other. Tyler has figured it out.”
“You have two kids here. [Toffoli] was the leading scorer in [the] Ontario [Hockey League], and [Vey] was the leading scoring in the [Western Hockey League], so you’ve got a little bit of this, ‘you’re not going to beat me,’ going. So when Tyler decides to start working, [Vey thinks], ‘I’ll stay with him,’ and that’s what you like to have.”
For his part, Vey downplayed any competition with Toffoli.
“I don’t know if there was competition,” said Vey. “You want to do the best you can. We all want each other to succeed. We know we’re all different kinds of players.”
“During practices we have competitions, but when it comes to games, it doesn’t matter who scores, or who chips in,” added Vey. “It’s all great, we’re all team guys. It’s team first, and we want to win.”
Of course, that was not the type of competition Lombardi was referring to, and Vey admitted, in rather low-key fashion, that such competition is there.
“Anytime you play with great players—players who are skilled, and have been successful, it just pushes you,” Vey noted. “There’s a natural [influence] to make you play better. If one guy’s working, we want to be working that hard. You kind of feed off each other.”
Raw Audio Interview
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Linden Vey (10:06)
- LA Kings Right Wing Prospect Brandon Kozun Is Finally Growing Up
- Dean Lombardi Says LA Kings Have “Lucked Out” With 2012 First Round Draft Pick Tanner Pearson
- LA Kings Goalie Prospect Martin Jones Is Making Progress In Spite Of Tough Season With Manchester
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