As Los Angeles Kings fans come to grips with the idea of LA taking the ice without Justin Williams for the first time in seven seasons, many are wondering what LA is losing in the 33 year old winger who was getting pushed down the depth chart. However, a common refrain of fans and bloggers alike has been an optimistic one: "Toffoli is the next Williams." This thought process has even been attributed to individuals inside the Kings' front office, and Williams himself fed the talk of their similarities last season.
All this raises the question: Can Tyler Toffoli really replicate Justin Williams' long term success on the Kings? On the surface, sure, they are both right wingers who can score. However, do we have enough information to assess whether that is a fair prediction at all? There is more to hockey than scoring, and Williams is a noted darling of possession metrics. To get an accurate overview of the situation, let's take a look at their prospect profiles as well as production and possession metrics for comparable points in their careers.
The Scouting Reports
Given Toffoli's limited time in the NHL, a good place to start may be to compare his expectations with those of Williams when he was starting. Toffoli was seen as a scoring winger who needed to work on his skating. Kings Coach Sutter would also not be shy about preaching the need for more of a physical element from Toffoli. Looking back, this profile is actually very similar to that of Williams as he was entering the NHL. People expected Williams to improve his skating and work on corner battles if he was to become a career NHL player. They were drafted fairly close to the same position as well, with Williams going late first round and Toffoli going in the middle of the second round.
Scouts certainly had a reason to be high on Williams heading into the draft. He posted 83 points in 68 games for his final OHL season. Toffoli's numbers were even higher, with him posting 108 points in his draft year in the OHL. He posted very similar numbers in his overage year. From the onset, it looks as if Toffoli could have an overall higher offensive upside than Williams.
Now let's take a look at each player's offensive production. I've chosen to look at four key stats: shots per 60 minutes, shooting percentage, first assist per 60 minutes, and points per 60 minutes (all at 5v5). These stats are generally the best ways to measure a player's offensive output and potential. In this table, Williams was a King for all years except 2007-2008, which was has last year in Carolina. Note that I've omitted years prior to 2007, and Williams had career years in 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 (31 and 33 goal season). The rate per 60 stats would have had to be manually calculated and I'm not sure primary assist data is easily available.
Offensive Production: Justin Williams, 2007-2015
One thing that should stick out about Williams is his ability to generate shots. 2014-2015 was understandably a struggle with Stoll, but Williams has consistently put up 10 or more shots per 60 minutes for a long stretch. This is particularly impressive when you look at other Kings over this era and realize he often has a whole shot or better than the next person on the team for several of these years. Williams' shooting talent seems to likely lie around 7%, but he compensates for not being an elite shooter by generating a ton of shots. It is quite an impressive rate given he's been doing this into his early 30's. Now on to Toffoli.
Offensive Production: Tyler Toffoli, 2012-2015
Here we see that Toffoli has a shooting percentage close to 9% (look at that consistency), and it's a number that's fairly close to Williams' earlier years. Toffoli also shines in shot generation. He's generating shots at a rate that is right there with Williams' best, and he was nearly two shots per 60 better than the next person on the team this past year (Carter had 9.04 shots/60). Toffoli's point production rate is also pretty close to Williams' in 2007-2008. Toffoli should continue improving for at least a few more years, so it is possible he could peak near where Williams did.
Possession statistics are one of the hot topics around the Kings, as they've been near the top in Corsi-for over the past several years. One of the reasons for that is Justin Williams. Ever since tracking for these stats began in 2007-2008 (when Williams was a member of the Hurricanes), Williams has been rock solid. Unfortunately, that is Williams' age 26 year, so we don't have direct comparables for Toffoli, who is just now 23. However, it is where most forwards are peaking on the age curve, so we should have no problem comparing.
For these stats, we'll focus on shots attempts for and against per 60, as well as each player's overall Corsi-for percentage relative to their teammates. Zone starts are also important because we get a picture of how a veteran winger might be used relative to a younger player that may have a tendency to be sheltered.
Possession Rates and Usage: Justin Williams, 2007-2015
|Year||CF60 Rel||CA60 Rel||CF% Rel||OZ FO%||DZ FO%||NZ FO%|
One thing that stands out is Williams' incredible 2012-2013. We can see that he got quite a bit of offensive zone deployment compared to other years, but when your team excels well at possession, all players are naturally going to have better offensive zone starts. Williams' last year as a Hurricane also stands out. He got quite a bit tougher deployment compared to his years as a King, but still excelled at both generating and suppressing shots for his team. Williams spent much of this last year with the ailing Jarret Stoll, who had his worst year as a King possession wise, which in turn hurts Williams. Wiliams' possession rates near the end of the season, when he saw more time with Kopitar, were extremely good.
Now let's move on to Toffoli. Most of the attention centered around him has been his ability to score. That's no problem because he does that pretty darn well. Note that 2012-2013 is only a total of ten games.
Possession Rates and Usage: Tyler Toffoli, 2012-2015
|Year||CF60 Rel||CA60 Rel||CF% Rel||OZ FO%||DZ FO%||NZ FO%|
Ok, you're probably looking at 2012-2013 aren't you? Yes, he gave up a lot of shots and it's probably not that informative given it's only 10 games, but the table looked sad with only two rows.
His 2013-2014 numbers actually looked very good, with a good mix of shot generation and shot suppression performance relative to his teammates, while spending most of his ice time (in the regular season) that year with Mike Richards. Of course, he got an offensive zone push because of Sutter's tendency to shelter younger players, but Toffoli's relative numbers were good enough for fourth best that year on the team.
Last year, Tyler spent the overwhelming majority of his time with Jeff Carter, who simply plays higher event hockey on both sides of the ice. That probably helps to explain why Toffoli's shot generation went up, with his shot suppression suffering. The good news is that Toffoli's numbers were pretty similar to Williams', especially when it comes to deployment. Clearly, Sutter began trusting Toffoli more last year, which leads us to his increased usage on special teams.
Power Play Possession Rates, 2012-2015
|Player||TOI||CF60 Rel||CA60 Rel||CF% Rel|
Penalty Kill Possession Rates, 2012-2015
|Player||TOI||CF60 Rel||CA60 Rel||CF% Rel|
Fortunately, we have a close comparison in this regard in terms of time on ice for penalty killing. The fact that Toffoli received more ice time total over the past three years on the PK relative to Williams is significant, given Toffoli had almost none in the 2013-2014 season and exactly none in his 10 games the year prior. Toffoli was clearly rewarded for his ability to take the puck to the other end of the ice during the PK. His five shorthanded goals this past year co-led the NHL, and he also had a reputation for doing this before he arrived in the NHL.
Toffoli's shot generation on the PK aside, they have very similar statistics on both the penalty kill and power play. We shouldn't focus too heavily on these stats given the inherit smaller sampling sizes we're dealing with, but it appears Toffoli is clearly capable of matching Williams' contributions on special teams, if not exceeding them.
The significant remaining categories of evaluation center around reputation and intangibles. In a sense, this whole comparison is probably premature and a bit unfair (oh god, I've written this far I can't quit now). While we're talking about things like hockey IQ, veteran leadership, and "clutch"-ness about Justin Williams, most critiques are focused on Toffoli's ability to put the puck in the net. In a sense, that's fair given his prolific scoring in juniors. However, given his increased usage on special teams and less sheltering by Coach Sutter, it's clear everyone needs to start talking about Toffoli as a complete hockey player. At a glance, it seems that Toffoli's offensive ceiling is a little higher than Williams', while the opposite is true from the defensive aspect. It's probably fair to assess them as fairly close to one another within the past two years, with the huge caveat that they're sitting on opposites ends of the aging curve.
Williams' reputation in big games is well known. Analytics has shown that being clutch likely isn't a skill. For Williams' point per game pace in the 2013-2014 post season, you can find a half point per game pace in another playoff where the Kings exited early. No doubt there is a confirmation bias in effect here, but Williams has been in a lot of big moment games and performed exceptionally well in a lot of them. Toffoli had good series against the Sharks and Blackhawks two years prior, but he needs to do that consistently to begin to have the kind of reputation that Williams enjoys.
The most pressing issue at hand is longevity. Williams isn't just good, he's been good for over a decade. Where most players would be entering significant decline in their thirties, Williams' numbers remain exceptionally strong. The only other Kings player that performed at that level on a consistent basis is an elite center six years his junior. This is the biggest question that remains for Toffoli. He needs to produce and possess the puck well for another decade. That may not be what the team needs over the long run, but it's the standard Toffoli needs to live up to if he's going to be viewed equally adoringly by the casual fan and analytics aficionado alike.
Thanks to stats.hockeyanalytics.com for all included stats.