Once upon a time, Kings fans lived for prospect rankings. During the lean years of the rebuild, positive reports of young stars kept us going. Tyler Toffoli, once the OHL's leading scorer, has been a name to watch ever since he was drafted in 2010. Take a look at his stats, and you can see why.
Position: C/RW Age: 20 (b.4/24/1992) Height: 6'0" Weight: 187 Shoots: Right
2nd Round 2010, 47th overall
But now the rebuild phase is over for Los Angeles. In one year, the Kings went from being a middling club with a top-ranked prospect pool to a team stocked with NHLers in their prime. The young core of the Cup-winning team is locked up long term, and they lost no one to free agency.
For up-and-comers like Tyler Toffoli, that means a shot at a roster spot is going to be that much harder to earn. Nevertheless, good, cheap talent coming up through the ranks is vital to LA’s plan for long-term success. Rookies like Voynov, King, and Nolan on last year’s Cup-winning team are a perfect examples of how young players stepped in and immediately had a big impact. The core is locked up, but they still need depth.
No matter what team you're building, the scoring punch of a sniper could help. That's the role they hope Tyler Toffoli can fill if he makes the jump.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Toffoli's best assets are his shooting ability and overall hockey sense. Watching these clips, it's easy to see what the Kings like about him. He has an accurate shot and a quick release. He finds open areas. He has a nose for the net, and can seemingly score from anywhere.
On the flip side, Toffoli's never been the best skater, and needs to improve his defensive awareness. Anyone who follows the Kings realizes that they're not going to stand for any forward who neglects that. So Toffoli has made that a focus.
Reports say he became more well-rounded in his final year with the 67's. Brock Otten of OHL Prospects writes:
Even though his point totals might have slipped a bit, I thought that Toffoli had a terrific year in the O. Truthfully, it was the first year where I saw significant gains in his game compared to his draft year. Firstly, it's incredibly clear he's been working hard with his power skating coaches because his skating and acceleration looked much better this year. He's still not a burner, but he had a quicker first step this year which helped him get separation from defenders on the rush. Secondly, he was better defensively, paying closer attention to the backcheck and working hard away from the puck (along the boards) in his own end. He became a three zone player this year and I think it really helped his game. Of course, you've still got a player with an absolutely lethal shot which he can release anywhere inside the zone, and without requiring much space. [...] At this point, Toffoli is clearly ready for the next step and I think he's worked hard to make sure he finds success there.
He will also need to continue improving his strength. One of the knocks on him in his draft year was that he hadn't taken his conditioning seriously. Things changed once the Kings' development program got a hold of him; Toffoli bought in, and now Nelson Emerson is full of praise for his hard work and dedication. He is still a work in progress, but that's a positive sign.
Here's a scouting update offered last November by Mike Futa, director of amateur scouting:
"Tyler has scored at all levels. He is a natural at finding the scoring areas and at getting his shot off. Both Mark and Jack Ferreira, our club’s special assistant to the general manager, say that Tyler is ‘off the charts’ with the puck.” Futa also commented on Tyler’s work since being drafted. “Tyler has taken huge strides to become an NHL player both on and off the ice. At one time you couldn’t get him to take his shirt off. Now you can’t get him to put one on. That shows his commitment to his off-season training.”
Judging by his Twitter profile, that shirt thing is true. But remaining strong on the puck will be a greater challenge at a higher level.
So how ready is he?
Toffoli played in a preseason game last fall, earning positive reviews from Terry Murray. The Kings also called him up to be one of the 'black aces' held in reserve for the playoffs; before Penner's revival kicked in, they seriously considered playing him.
In his draft year, E.J. McGuire compared him to Florida Panther Stephen Weiss. Another 50-60 point player in the NHL would be a welcome addition, especially a shooter who thrives on the power play.
But not every top scorer in junior is going to make it. There's always been a risk/reward element to Toffoli, and as we noted with Tanner Pearson, putting up those kinds of numbers at 19 is different from doing it at 17. The defensive-minded Kings don't have a track record of developing top 6 wingers, either.
Right now, Kings management seems to think he's close. Maintaining their high opinion will depend on how well he handles the transition to the AHL as he prepares for his big shot.
When Terry Murray was in charge, a nose-for-the-net guy in Matt Moulson slipped through their fingers. Sutter is a tough taskmaster, but if Toffoli works hard, I think he'll be given more opportunities to realize his potential.
But a lot depends on Toffoli himself. There's a tough road ahead, and a lot of other prospects vying for fewer spots. I'm excited to see how he handles his first season among pros, and I love the thought of a dazzling shot. If there's one thing this team needs, it's goals, goals, and goals.
As with his peers Linden Vey and Tanner Pearson, this is a key season of development. Lombardi and Sutter will have more time to keep a watchful eye on them. He has time to work his way onto the Kings, and their window to contend just slid open.