In 2010, the year he was drafted 47th overall by the Los Angeles Kings, Tyler Toffoli scored 79 points. Over the next two seasons Toffoli would go on to earn 208 more points in the Ontario Hockey League, including 108 points in a 50-50 season in 2010-11. A bright future was set for Toffoli as he graduated from juniors in 2012, with his sights on the NHL.
But disaster struck, and the NHL was locked out for the start of the 2012-13 season. There was no September training camp for Toffoli to prove himself NHL-ready. So, Toffoli began the last season in Manchester, NH with the Kings' AHL-affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs.
While the move up to the American Hockey League understandably lowered Toffoli's production numbers, Toffoli established himself as one of the top prospects playing in the AHL. In 58 games with the Monarchs in 2012-13, Toffoli scored 28 goals and recorded 23 assists for 51 points. His performance proved good enough to warrant a call-up to the Kings late in the season.
In 10 regular season NHL games with the Kings in 2013, Toffoli scored two goals and added three assists. Following this admirable performace, the depth situation in Los Angeles allowed Toffoli to make the Kings' playoff lineup.
It was in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that Toffoli truly shone brightest, scoring two crucial goals and assisting on four others, including Slava Voynov's eventual game-winning goal in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. Experts and fans alike liked what they saw from Toffoli, who played tough and with something to prove.
Heading into the 2013-14 season, hockey fans across North America considered Toffoli a preseason contender for the Calder Trophy, the NHL's Rookie of the Year award. When Toffoli did not make the Kings out of camp, many were surprised, but no one considered it the last they'd hear from the 21-year-old. It is a general consensus that Toffoli has the talent, but just needs a place to play.
“I think it's just a matter of opportunity right now,” Monarchs' coach Mark Morris said of Toffoli's NHL chances. “His defensive game is good enough to play there, but to really push him over the top will have to take an injury or a trade to make a spot for him.”
Morris noted that it is the defensive game that develops last for forward prospects, but said that Toffoli already is good enough defensively to play NHL hockey.
“Offensive players have a tendency to lean on the side of taking a chance. He's pretty good about that, though,” Morris said. “He'll cut his losses and take a defensive posture.”
Although Toffoli likely should be in the NHL at this point, he personally sees no problem with where he is and uses the NHL as motivation.
“I think every [part of my game] needs improvement. That’s why you’re in the American League and not the NHL,” Toffoli said. “[The NHL is] the best league for hockey, and not everyone can be in the league, so you have to get better at everything until you are good enough for the NHL. You just have to keep working.”
Morris said that Toffoli's whole line – the Monarchs' top line – could be playing in the NHL if the Kings weren't so deep.
“Tyler sees the game from a level most don't see it at. That's why he's playing with [Linden] Vey and [Tanner] Pearson,” Morris said. “All three of those guys have elite hockey sense. They feed off of one another well and help each other get better.”
Morris said that one of the things he is looking for Toffoli to improve on this season is his foot-speed.
“He just needs to work on getting places a little quicker in order to really refine his game,” Morris said.
Morris and the Monarchs are pleased Toffoli is back in Manchester, at least for their team's sake.
“He's a very gifted scorer with an uncanny ability to get to those scoring places,” Morris said. “He knows where the net is and has a great release. He scores a lot of clutch goals.”
With a new season underway, Toffoli is locked-in with a determination to be the top scorer in the AHL. Toffoli started off the season where he left off last year. as he scored in the Monarchs' season opener October 5th vs. Springfield.
“It's really exciting. It was a lot of fun last year, but it's a new year and you can't really think about last season,” Toffoli said. “I just have to start moving forward and do good things this season.”
Follow Mark Volain on Twitter via @markcvolain