Every year, a different NHL city hosts the Entry Draft. It’s an exciting time for all the young players. For a lucky few, the team hosting the draft drafts them. They get to walk up on the stage in front of the fans they will hope to play in front of someday.
In 2010, the LA Kings hosted the Draft at the Staples Center. With their second round pick, they selected Tyler Toffoli. While he was both nervous and excited the day of the draft, he is excited that he went to LA. Less than three years later, he got the very exciting chance to play in front of the same fan base from being drafted. Getting into a first NHL game is something every kid dreams of doing.
“It was really cool and it was a really good experience. It turned out to be a lot of fun,” Toffoli said. “I didn’t really know what to expect coming into the season. It turned out well. I’m happy about it and just have to look forward to next season now.”
Not only did Toffoli get into 10 NHL games during his first season, but he also scored his first two NHL goals during that time. Unfortunately he does not currently have the puck he scored that first goal with. But, it will be something that he always remembers. More than that, he loves playing in front of the fans in LA.
“It was incredible. Just scoring a goal in the NHL is a dream come true,” said Toffoli. “The fans are awesome. Not even with scoring goals every night, the fans at Staples Center were incredible. It was just a good experience.”
The 2011-2012 Stanley Cup Champions made the playoffs again during the 2012-2013 season. This time, Toffoli got the chance to take part in LA’s postseason run. He scored another two goals in the 12 games he got into. It was invaluable experience for the young forward.
“It was good. I was trying to help the team and contribute, not only offensively. I wanted to do whatever I could to help the team win,” Toffoli said of the playoffs. “We were doing good there, but unfortunately we lost. It was definitely tough but we have to look forward to next season. We lost to the Stanley Cup Champions so it’s tough but Chicago is a really good team.”
While playing with the Kings during the playoffs, he had an opportunity that not every hockey player has.The Kings faced off against the Blackhawks during the Western Conference Finals. Even though the Blackhawks won the series and went on to win the Stanley Cup, Toffoli will remember that series for a different reason. He found himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated. It was not the most flattering picture, but he’s not embarrassed about it at all.
“Oh, I thought it was pretty awesome actually. It was pretty funny,” laughed Toffoli. “All my friends said it doesn’t matter what you look like on the cover, you still made it. It’s pretty cool. I definitely bought a couple for myself and my family.”
Before getting a shot to make his NHL debut, Toffoli was making a name for himself in the AHL. The transition between junior hockey and professional hockey can be a big adjustment for some. The numbers that he put up during his first pro season seem to speak for themselves, though.
“I don’t know if I would say I struggled, it was just a different experience. It was a big difference for me to learn to do everything off the ice,” Toffoli said. “I was with a good group of guys and I got a good opportunity. I just kind of ran with it and didn’t look back.”
While he gives a lot of credit to playing with good teammates, it cannot be overlooked that Toffoli is a talented player. Through 58 games playing with the Manchester Monarchs in the AHL, he had 28 goals and 23 assists. That earned him the honor of being the AHL Rookie of the Year. He also helped the Monarchs make it to the playoffs at the very end of the season.
“It was the opportunity I had and the chemistry I had with my line mates that was key. Tanner Pearson and I were really quick. We had a really good year,” Toffoli said, still giving credit away. “The award (Rookie of the Year) is something cool to have. It really speaks to the opportunity I had and the success I had with my team. It shows we worked together.”
Another part of the reason that he seems to have adjusted so seamlessly to playing professional hockey comes down to his time spent in the OHL. Toffoli spent 4 seasons playing for the Ottawa 67s and feels that time really shaped him to be the player that he is now. It was great for his development to play there.
“I just learned how to play the game and be a professional. I worked hard and learned to not be a one-dimensional player,” Toffoli said about his time in Ottawa. “You have to work hard in all three zones and try to get better every single day. I feel like they did really well with that and I had four really good seasons. That’s a time I’ll never forget.”
Now that he has his first professional season in the books, Toffoli knows that there are things he needs to work on. He had a better opportunity than most for his first season, playing in the NHL playoffs. But, having had that experience tells him what he needs to work on to earn a more permanent spot on the Kings roster.
“I have to work on everything. I have to be stronger and faster. I have to work on my game as a whole,” said Toffoli. “I’m getting an opportunity and I have to keep getting better to earn my spot and stay in the lineup.”
Playing in the NHL full time is something that every kid dreams of growing up, especially when they have been playing most of their lives. It was no different in this case.
“I think was 3 or 4 when I first started and then I was probably 5 or 6 when I first started playing hockey. Being in Canada you start pretty early,” Toffoli said.
Throughout his whole hockey career, Toffoli sites his parents as his biggest influence. It can take a lot of time and commitment to support a young hockey player. There are a lot of games far away and early morning practices. Players often have to move away at 16, like Toffoli did when he moved to Ottawa to play for the 67s.
“They went to every away game they could make. It was definitely a really cool time and a really good experience,” Toffoli said. My mom and dad didn’t like to miss many games so they made a lot of road trips. It meant a lot to me.”
Toffoli also got good advice about playing hockey when he was younger that has stuck with him. Even though it might be simple, it is something that he still remembers. It goes to show how the simple things can be the ones usually overlooked, but they can also be the most important lessons to remember.
“I believe in working hard and trying to be better every day. It goes a long way,” Toffoli said. “When you get older, you realize how important working hard every day is and how much it helps. It seems simple, but it goes a long way.”
Next season, Toffoli is looking forward to bringing that same work ethic to his game. With any luck, fans can look forward to seeing him earn a permanent spot with the Kings. However, even if he ends up in the AHL with Manchester, he will still work hard. He knows the opportunity ahead of him and that he has to make the most of it.