Tyler Toffoli entered the 2010 NHL Entry Draft with first-round aspirations.
The young forward was fresh off a campaign that saw him put up 79 points in 65 games. Toffoli had also closed out his second full season in junior hockey with the general approval of scouts. When James Mirtle collected draft prospect rankings from four different sources, Toffoli found himself the 33rd-highest ranked player in the draft on average. In two of those lists, Toffoli was ranked 27th. Separate from that, NHL.com ranked him as the 16th-best North American skater in the draft. It would have surprised absolutely no one if Toffoli's name had been called out during that first day.
The Toronto native sat patiently with his family - in Staples Center, oddly enough - and watched team after team pass over him. As the first round came to a close, he found himself in the same situation he had been in the day before: without a NHL club. Tyler Toffoli had to be disappointed with the way the day had unfolded.
Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, on the other hand, had to be ecstatic.
After joining the Kings in 2006, it didn't take very long for Lombardi to establish his reputation as a defensive-minded drafter. His very first draft choice was goaltender Jonathan Bernier and his second pick was Trevor Lewis. Though Lewis is a forward, he was a a late-blooming, overage draftee that had already garnered praise for his defensive play and character by the time he left his first developmental camp.
In 2007, Lombardi made a widely-criticized reach with the 4th overall pick in the draft when he chose defenseman Thomas Hickey, who was generally not considered to be one of the top-10 players in the draft. The year after that, Lombardi took defensemen Drew Doughty, Colten Teubert, and Slava Voynov with his first three selections - two of those choices occurred in the first round.
Finally, in 2009, Lombardi got his high-profile forward in Brayden Schenn. However, Lombardi immediately returned to his roots as a man that values defensive play, toughness, and character above all else. His next selection was Kyle Clifford, who was probably the same player in 2009 that you know in 2015. Just two years later, Lombardi went ahead and traded Brayden Schenn as part of a deal to bring Mike Richards to the Kings.
So, the 2010 draft had to be the best-case scenario for Dean Lombardi. With his first pick, he was once again able to get his defender in Derek Forbort, who went to the Kings at 15th overall. After that, Lombardi waited and watched while a highly-touted, high-scoring forward slipped, and slipped, and slipped... right into the Kings' lap.
Why did Tyler Toffoli drift down the draft board anyway? It was most likely due to sub-standard conditioning and skating. Thankfully, it didn't take him too long to make a good impression on the Kings. At his second training camp, then head coach Terry Murray reflected very favorably on Toffoli's improved skating. Toffoli himself commented that his much-improved conditioning led to better play in the season after being drafted. His improved strength is bared out in other numbers as well. At the time he was drafted, Toffoli was 6-foot-0 and 180 pounds. Two years later, Toffoli had added an additional 8 pounds of muscle.
Toffoli notched over 50 goals in each of his last 2 seasons in the OHL. He then made a painless transition to the AHL, picking up nearly a point per game in his first full season as a professional hockey player. For his efforts, he was given the league's Rookie of the Year honors. In the same season, he ascended to the NHL and was able to tack on an additional 6 points in 12 playoff games. One of those points was an assist on this Trevor Lewis goal, a set-up we'd see Toffoli repeat a little over a year later.
In just 158 games as a King (between regular season and playoffs), Tyler Toffoli has made a substantial dent in Kings history. The Toffoli pick was not just out of character for Dean Lombardi, but for the Kings in general. Simply put: the Kings have not drafted many point-producing forwards.
After an excellent run from 1980 to 1986 that saw the Kings draft Bernie Nicholls, Luc Robitaille, Jimmy Carson, and Jim Fox, the well ran dry. In the 28 drafts that have followed those 7, the Kings have selected just 4 additional players that fit into the same category as those '80's kids. That category? Forwards drafted by the Kings with more than 100 games as a King that have produced points at a higher rate for the Kings than Tyler Toffoli.
In 120 regular season games since joining the team, Toffoli has 69 points. That is good for a 0.58 points per game rate. Since 1986, the only Kings draftees that have performed better offensively while with the team are Anze Kopitar, Mike Cammalleri, Alex Frolov, and Vitali Yachmenev. Moreover, the Kings haven't drafted scoring forwards that have stuck around. The quartet drafted from '80-'86 racked up 2476 games as Kings, while the latter foursome has tallied just 1623 - and only Anze Kopitar can still add to that total.
How exactly is Toffoli writing his story, anyway? While he is tied for the team-lead in points at even strength (with 6 fewer games played than co-leader Jeff Carter), Toffoli is not simply an offensive threat, but an all-around force.
His shorthanded exploits this season have been well-documented, but did you know that he has the best shorthanded-Corsi Against/60 among players with substantial shorthanded ice-time? Well, he does, at least among players still on the team (ahem).
Toffoli's puck possession game is also incredibly strong. He currently carries the 5th-best Corsi For Percentage on the best possession team in the league. Even after you account for the effects that Darryl Sutter's deployment has on him, he is simply one of the best players on the team at driving play.
In every category that matters, Toffoli has asserted himself as a top-flight NHL player, and he has done so in his first full season out of the AHL. As Sheng alluded to in his excellent piece (and Jason Lewis in his) on improving the Kings, the time to give Toffoli more ice-time has arrived. Honestly, it arrived ages ago.
By claiming Tyler Toffoli as the heir apparent to the Kings' throne, I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself, but it's incredibly hard not to. The Kings, in their entire history, are largely bereft of high-scoring, homegrown forwards - especially ones that have stayed with the team. Should he enjoy a healthy career with the Kings, Toffoli is on his way to being one of the best drafted-and-developed players in this team's history, and we all get to watch it happen.