Kings’ youngsters proving they belong with the big boys

Tyler Toffoli (73) has three goals and three assists while Tanner Pearson (70) has a goal and three assists and a plus-five rating.

Doug Pensinge

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Late in March, with the Kings still jockeying for playoff position, a reporter from the Minneapolis Star looked at the Los Angeles roster.

"Tyler Toffoli? I’ve never heard of this guy," he said. "Tanner Pearson?"

Further confused by the pronunciation of Pearson’s name (he pronounced it pare-son), he continued to ponder the Kings’ two anonymous forwards.

Just when it appeared that the two had lost a little of their anonymity, Pearson’s own teammate, defenseman Drew Doughty, had trouble remembering the left winger’s name after his two-point night in Game 7 against the Sharks.

Maybe their names aren’t quite as well-known as Doughty’s yet, but the team’s kids and their affectionately named "kid line" have come on strong in the postseason. Thus far, Toffoli has three goals and three assists while Pearson has a goal and three assists and a plus-five rating. The two are getting the nod over more established playoff veterans such as Colin Fraser because they aren’t playing like kids — they’re playing like men.

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"They have to play a lot and they have to play against good players," said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. "This is not junior or college where you’re playing seniors against freshman, or 20 year olds against 16 year olds. This is a different deal. The young guys have to be better prepared for that."

The missing piece of their line is veteran Jeff Carter and the combination of young and old has been effective. But the chemistry between Toffoli and Pearson has been building for years as the two played alongside one another in the minors.

"It’s definitely comforting," Pearson said. "We played together in Manchester and played against each other in the (Ontario Hockey League). We knew how each other played. To be put on the same line here, we know where each other is going to be on the ice."

But Sutter and the Kings coaches were not instantly sold on the pair.

Toffoli was regarded as one of the Kings’ top prospects since he was drafted in 2010 and was named the AHL Rookie of the Year in 2013, the same year he made his debut with the big club. Then just 21, he scored twice in 10 games but the promotion didn’t stick and he started the season back in Manchester, Vt., with the Kings’ AHL affiliate.

However, 15 goals in 18 games and improved skating with the Monarchs showed that he was ready for a call-up.

"You obviously wanted to send a message and say that you shouldn’t be in that league anymore," Toffoli said. "I was just trying to do whatever I could. I got a few bounces. Just kept shooting the puck and it went in."

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For Pearson, now 21, he was up and down between Los Angeles and Manchester this season after some up-and-down results.

"The third time it clicked for me and I found my game," he said. "It’s a great group of guys here and they’re always pushing me to get better."

The duo is still not necessarily playing heavy minutes but their numbers are trending in that direction. The Western Conference playoffs have been marked by big performances from young guys like Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, San Jose’s Matt Nieto and Tomas Hertl and the remaining teams are now looking for big performances from the rookies.

"When we dress players, we trust them," Sutter said. "When they dress, we expect them to play as much as everybody else."

They can vote and they can drink, so why not be allowed to win a Stanley Cup?