FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: Los Angeles Kings top forward prospects Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, and Linden Vey made it all the way to the final cuts from the Kings’ 2013 Training Camp before being assigned to the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League. Like all young prospects who are that close to making it to the National Hockey League, they are now dealing with the disappointment of not making the big club’s roster. How is that affecting their play? Exclusive interviews with each player, along with Monarchs head coach Mark Morris, should tell you all you need to know!
LOS ANGELES — When the Los Angeles Kings opened their 2013 Training Camp, a widely held belief was that right wing Tyler Toffoli would be a shoo-in to make the Kings’ opening night roster.
As training camp wore on, there was also some thought that left wing Tanner Pearson and center Linden Vey might also have a chance to make the Kings’ roster, given their strong showings in camp, and in pre-season games.
But when the final training camp roster cuts were released, all three players learned that they would be heading back to the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League.
As with just about every young player who’s knocking on the door, they were all disappointed.
“I was definitely disappointed, but I knew that I had to make the team, and I just didn’t make the team, so I don’t think I can be down for too long,” said Toffoli, who scored 28 goals and added 23 assists for 51 points in 58 regular season games with the Monarchs, earning AHL Rookie of the Year honors last season. “I have to rebound, and just keep playing well here.”
“It’s your dream to play in the NHL, and to see it so close to happening, but [then], not happening, it’s a let down,” said Pearson, who scored 19 goals and tallied 28 assists for 47 points in 64 regular season games last season with the Monarchs. “But I’m going to come back here and play as hard as I can in Manchester to prove that I belong there [on the Kings roster].”
“That’s your goal—you want to play in the NHL,” said Vey, who led the Monarchs in scoring last season with 22 goals and 45 assists for 67 points in 74 regular season games. “It doesn’t matter who it is. When you get cut, it’s always disappointing.”
Apparently, their disappointment has crept into their first handful of games, just a bit, to begin the 2013-14 AHL season.
“I think all three of those guys who played together were feeling let down,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “You could see it in their eyes, you could see it in how they carried themselves, and that’s just a matter of maturity.”
Morris is concerned enough about their play that he broke up their line starting with practice on October 14.
“The Vey-Toffoli-Pearson line cooled off a little bit,” Morris noted. “They needed a different look today, so I just switched left wingers, to see if we could generate a little chemistry, and a fresh look. I liked what I saw today.”
Toffoli indicated that their play has been a bit sloppy.
“We’re just not handling the puck,” he said. “We’ve been throwing the puck away a little bit, and not making the best decisions. We’re just making it harder on ourselves. We have to be better with the puck, and make smarter decisions.”
“I just think [Coach Morris is] trying to get us going a little bit,” he added. “I think we’ve had some flashes where we were really good, and then, sometimes, we haven’t been so good. We’ll see how long it lasts, but when we get put back together, we’ll have to stay consistent.”
Pearson, who made his National Hockey League debut with the Kings last season, on May 18, 2013, in Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals at San Jose, said that it was more about how other teams are playing against them than anything else.
“I don’t think [the disappointment has] really affected me at all,” he noted. “Teams are playing us pretty tough. They know who we are from last year, so I think it’s just to mix up things, to get a different look.”
Morris said that Pearson does not seem to be playing with the same jump as he had during the Kings’ training camp.
“As much as everyone else, I was really encouraged when I saw how he competed in L.A,” said Morris. “I’d like to see that same type of enthusiasm while he’s here, but I also understand that they’re going through that letdown period right now. Although they could have success, it’s more sporadic than it should be, and that’s a mindset, more than anything.”
Morris noted that Toffoli and Vey were in the same boat, but he does not seem to be worried about them being mired in their current funk.
“They’re good kids,” Morris added. “They’re disappointed. You know, there’s a lot of teams in the NHL who they’d play for [right now]. But the fact of the matter is they’re in a good situation here, where they can continue to work on their games, get quality ice time, and play in all situations. If they were with the Kings right now, chances are they’d be the odd man out from time to time.”
Evidence suggests that none of the three players have become discouraged by not making the big club’s roster. Indeed, aside from the natural disappointment of being right on the doorstep, only to fall just short, the fact that they had strong training camps appears to have provided encouragement and motivation. In fact, Vey indicated that his performance in the Kings training camp gave his confidence a boost.
“It was the first year I got to play in exhibition games,” he noted. “That was a new step, a new challenge. For the most part, I thought they went well, but then, you find yourself back down in the American league, and you’ve got some things to work on.”
“[Seeing how you stack up against NHL-caliber players in training camp and pre-season games] gives you more confidence,” he added. “I think you realize that you’re not that far [off], that you’ve just got to keep working, and hopefully, if you keep improving, one day, you’ll be there.”
Morris pointed to a prime example of what patience, dedication, persistence, and hard work can do for a young prospect, especially those as close to making it to the NHL as Pearson, Toffoli and Vey appear to be.
“It happened with [Kings defenseman] Slava [Voynov],” Morris explained. “I remember him going through a similar stage of his development, where he had played [with the Kings], and had done very well, and then he was back here [prior to the Jack Johnson trade]. I’m sure he didn’t like it, but he didn’t sulk. He really made an impact on our team, and then, the door opened up, and he became the type of player he is today.”
“That’s a great example of the attitude you have to have to eventually make it and stick,” Morris elaborated. “Some decisions are out of your control. You can only control what you have control, and that’s how you have to play. You can’t let that other stuff drive you crazy, or get you down. You’ve just got to do the best you can, and hope that when the opportunity comes, you stick.”
Despite not making the Kings’ opening night roster, as reported earlier, all three players are knocking on the door. All it would take is an injury to a forward, or perhaps a roster shake-up of some kind, to create an opportunity.
“It’s nice to have that feeling,” Pearson noted. “You’re not wishing for guys to get injured, but if something happens, like last June in the [NHL] playoffs—I got a chance to play in a playoff game. It’s kind of a waiting game right now.”
“The big thing for me, Tanner and Toff is that we’re so close,” Vey emphasized. “We’ve just got to keep improving. We’ve got no time to pout or sulk, or anything.”
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