From Anze Kopitar's consistency to Dustin Brown's resiliency to Justin Williams's clutch ways, I have been impressed with each of the Los Angeles Kings players in their own way this past season. From an overall standpoint, however, I don't believe I was more impressed this year with any one player than I was with Tyler Toffoli. In his first full season with the Kings, the 22-year-old has already established himself as the most promising piece to a future in SoCal that has never look brighter.
Having grown up in Ottawa, despite not having an NHL team since 1992, I have had the pleasure of watching many of the NHL's future stars play for the city's junior team, the 67's. But in 2008-09, my last year in Ottawa, I worked for a local cable company who prided themselves on covering their OHL team. It was during that season that a 16-year-old Tyler Toffoli broke in with the 67's. He scored 46 goals in 54 games and that point, I had no personal bias as Toffoli wasn't drafted by the Kings until the following year. But even then, I saw promise in this kid and Dean Lombardi and the Kings must have agreed, especially considering how unwilling they are to part with the youngster. This past season, fans in Los Angeles and even abroad saw what was so special about Tyler Toffoli.
A native of Scarborough, Ontario, Tyler Toffoli was taken 47th overall by the Kings in 2010 before eventually making the big club near the end of the 2013 season where he played 10 regular-season games and 12 playoff games. But after playing the first 18 games of the 2013-14 campaign in Manchester, Toffoli was called up to the big club - and that's where he remained.
In 62 games with the Kings, Toffoli scored 12 goals and added 17 assists with accumulating a magnificent rating of +21, all the while maintaining impeccable discipline with just 10 penalty minutes to his name. His average ice time of 12:56 certainly wasn't among that of the aforementioned Kopitar and Brown but considering his previous NHL experience (or lack thereof), that is one heck of a starting point. Toffoli also fired 124 total shots on goal during the regular season, good enough for ninth on the club.
At 6' 1, 187 pounds, Toffoli certainly isn't the most fearsome player on the ice, although his 57 hits in 62 games was a decent total. His eight blocked shots suggest that he's not the most defensive-minded player and while that may be accurate now, there is still a lot of room for the youngster to improve. But with that said, no one could suggest that Toffoli lacks defensive prowess. During the year, he committed 25 giveaways, but made up for it by registering 23 takeaways - a ratio many players would love to have. But, like I have been saying about most of the Kings this season like it was going out of style, Tyler Toffoli's game elevated once the playoffs began.
While playing in all of Los Angeles's 26 postseason games, Toffoli scored seven goals and added seven assists to go along with a +6 rating. Much of this offensive success was due to Toffoli's solid play on That 70's Line with Tanner Pearson and Jeff Carter. The trio delivered and only seem to get better as the playoffs progressed. While no member of the trio was more important than the other, Toffoli's impact certainly spoke for itself, which included success in the West Final against a daunting Blackhawks lineup. His average ice time even increased to 13:18.
Physically, Toffoli helped out significantly as he dished out 40 hits and while he only blocked four shots, he committed more takeaways (7) than giveaways (4). In the end, Tyler Toffoli was awarded his first of what many hope to be many Stanley Cups.
Overall, enough can't be said about the impact the young Tyler Toffoli has already brought to Los Angeles. For a team as successful as the Kings have been over the last three years, it is easy - even forgiveable - to not think heavily about the future for a while. But that's not the case with the Los Angeles Kings who are as serious as ever about their future, and that primarily includes Toffoli - and for very good reason.
Entering 2014-15, Tyler Toffoli will be playing the final year of his current contract before becoming a restricted free agent. You can be sure that Toffoli will be asking for a significant raise from his current $765,000 salary - and rightfully so. But I have no reason to worry about Toffoli's future in Los Angeles beyond next season and nor should anyone else.
The 22-year-old is here to stay in the City of Angels and to just think about what the next five years have in store for both Toffoli and the Kings, it gives me goosebumps.
From Ottawa to Los Angeles: a familiar path (albeit slightly different) and a smart path. Here's to the success of Tyler Toffoli this past season and for many, many more.
Overall grade for Tyler Toffoli: A+