Tyler Toffoli of the Los Angeles Kings has had an up and down season. The rookie winger who was a revelation in last year’s playoffs saw himself going back and forth between the Kings and the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs throughout the season. While the coaching staff can be criticized for keeping the skilled Toffoli in the minors when he did the one thing the rest of the team struggled at (scoring!) his defensive/all-around game has benefited. Given that Darryl Sutter is a man known for his defense first and foremost, Toffoli’s defensive improvements bode well for increased responsibilities and as a result ice time. In order for the Kings to close out their series against the Anaheim Ducks the former Ottawa 67 sniper will need to be at the forefront.
The Kings drafted Toffoli in the second round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and he has been the (pardon the pun) crown jewel of the farm system since arriving in the professional ranks in 2012. Despite concerns about his skating he has turned out to be a more than effective scorer at the AHL and NHL levels. AHL seasoning has served him well as the Kings brought him along slowly and now their patience is being rewarded. It’s easy to criticize a team for being patient with a prospect, but too many prospects are rushed along and serve as cautionary tales for mismanaged development. The Kings have done a fantastic job at allowing prospects to develop in the AHL for a period of time (Jonathan Quick, Slava Voynov) because not every NHL player is firmly established in the league before their 21stbirthday (Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar personify the exceptions, not the rule). Toffoli took his demotion in stride and has been an integral part of the Kings’ pursuit of their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.
Long-term Toffoli projects to be a 25-30 goal scorer that excels on the power play and plays on one of the top two lines. Here and now in the short-term he has a unique opportunity that comes from playing on a deep team, however. Despite seeing some time with the top 6 Toffoli has been at his best on the third line with fellow rookie Tanner Pearson seeing second-tier defensemen from the opposing team on the “third” line. The team’s top-heavy forward corps, having a great young player using his skill against inferior defensive matchups in the bottom six, gives the Kings a “secret weapon”. While the Ducks’ defensive aces Francois Beauchemin and Ben Lovejoy are focused on keeping the likes of Kopitar and Jeff Carter off the score sheet Toffoli will be getting every opportunity to excel against their weaker defensemen. With 6 points through 10 playoff games (6th on the team) Toffoli is taking advantage of his matchups and giving the Kings a level of secondary scoring they lacked at times this season. Even if the Ducks were to focus their attention on shutting him down they would be taking their focus off established NHL snipers such as Kopitar, Carter and Marian Gaborik. This shift would leave these stars open to wreak havoc all over the ice.
With a 2-0 lead over the Ducks going back to Staples Center look for Toffoli to continue his “under the radar” production and the Kings to keep on rolling all the way back to the Stanley Cup Finals. It seems like every year a young player shows his worth en route to helping his team win the Stanley Cup (Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks and Tyler Seguin of the Boston Bruins come to mind) and 2014 may be the year Tyler Toffoli adds his name to that prestigious list.