By Nicholas Carafa
Photo via CHL Images
In 2008, Tyler Toffoli told the Toronto Star it was a “real big year.” Big in the sense that he was about to take the next step in his hockey career by entering the OHL draft.
Fast-forward to February 2016. The former Toronto Jr. Canadiens forward is in the midst of a monster season with the Los Angeles Kings, with whom the 23-year-old has already won a Stanley Cup.
His 2007-08 campaign with the Jr. Canadiens was defined by 68 goals and 174 points in 83 games – an average of 2.10 points per game. He also helped the club win the Toronto Marlboros Holiday Classic by scoring both goals in a 2-0 victory in the championship game. Later that year, the Scarborough native’s hard work paid off when the Ottawa 67’s snagged him with the seventh overall selection.
Toffoli has compiled 60-61—121 through parts of four seasons in the NHL, with his 200th career regular-season game slated for Tuesday, Feb. 9 at Boston, the Kings’ next contest. That includes 23 goals in 51 games this season, tying his career high set in 2014-15 (76 GP). His 38 points rank second on the Kings and are 11 shy of tying his career best also achieved last season.
Even more impressive is that Toffoli shares second in the League with a plus-23 rating.
Toffoli made his debut with the Kings in 2012-13 and then helped the club win the Stanley Cup in 2014, their second championship in three years. His ability to crack the roster was aided by his chemistry with Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson.
“Sometimes there’s just that chemistry that hits,” said Kings vice president of hockey operations Michael Futa of the trio dubbed ‘That 70s Line,’ a handle inspired by their jersey-numbers.
“[Toffoli and Pearson] are kids that were knocked initially for their skating. They’ve worked on their conditioning, their pace … and when they threw Carter there in the middle, everything seemed to click all at once. It’s not too often you have a line where they’re all really dangerous shooters.”
Toffoli now sits atop the Kings’ depth chart, helping the club to a seven-point cushion atop the Pacific Division. That is thanks in large part to an 11-6-1 record since the Christmas break, aided by nine goals and 14 points by Toffoli in that span.
If Toffoli keeps up this pace, he could be in contention for a spot on Team Canada at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey in Toronto (Sept. 17 – Oct. 1, 2016 at Air Canada Centre).
His progress in the professional ranks has been calculated after a serious wake-up call from Kings management. During his first training camp, Toffoli realized it would take more than just goals to make it in the NHL.
“I was clearly in terrible shape. I wasn’t very well-conditioned,” Toffoli told the LA Times in November. “If you want to say the commitment wasn’t there, I was just getting by on skill in junior. Without those things, I wouldn’t be in this position.”
Working out with Carter in the off-season has helped Toffoli adapt to his growing role in Los Angeles. It could also help him crack the Canadian squad for the World Cup of Hockey in his hometown next September.
The confidence in his game is now shining brighter than the California sun as he gradually becomes a face of the franchise. No longer a dark horse, it’s safe to say that 2016 could also be a “real big year” for Toffoli.
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