Rookie makes the most of his opportunity
The line on Tyler Toffoli's first NHL game read like this: 13 minutes 20 seconds played, 19 shifts, one shot on goal, plus two attempts blocked and four missed. It was a modest debut for the Kings' rookie forward, but it passed muster with the only man that matters, Coach Darryl Sutter.
Sutter is well known for practicing tough love when it comes to young players, but he also believes in giving them opportunities — and Toffoli had a good one Saturday in the Kings' 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks, lining up alongside Mike Richards and Jeff Carter on the second line.
Last season, the Kings promoted Jordan Nolan and Dwight King from their minor league affiliate in Manchester, N.H., and through their various ups and downs Sutter stuck with them and both were in the lineup when the Kings won the Stanley Cup last season.
But Toffoli is a different sort of prospect, a gifted offensive talent who scored a league-leading 52 goals in 65 games for his junior team, the Ottawa 67s last year. This season, Toffoli was leading Manchester in goals (28) and second in points with 48 in 55 games.
For a Kings team that is occasionally challenged offensively, Toffoli represents an important part of their future — and the 20-year-old hopes that the future is now.
"It was incredible," said Toffoli, noting that he wanted to "play the best game of my life — knowing it was going to be the only first game in the NHL I'm ever going to play."
What Sutter liked best about Toffoli's play was that he was strong at both ends of the ice, although one play cost the Kings a penalty shot. In the second period, with the Kings ahead, 2-1, Sharks' forward Tommy Wingels slipped behind the defense for a clear breakaway. Toffoli came back hard on the backcheck and slammed his stick onto Wingels, in what would have been a perfectly legal play had Wingels' stick not broken in his hands.
Wingels was awarded a penalty shot, but Kings goaltender Jonathan Bernier made a neat glove save.
As Sutter noted, of Toffoli: "He's supposed to do that. Did I like that? You're supposed to do that. You're so supposed to backcheck. If you don't backcheck, you can play in the American League or you don't play at all."
Sutter also thought Toffoli was a victim of first-game syndrome and passed up too many scoring opportunities, a natural tendency to be deferential to his more experienced linemates. Toffoli took Nolan's place in the lineup.
"Jordan Nolan is struggling a lot," Sutter said.
The Kings won't comment on trade speculation, because talking about other teams' players would constitute tampering. But with the NHL trading deadline approaching, April 3, there was rampant speculation that the No. 1 player available would be Jarome Iginla, the Calgary Flames' captain who is on an expiring contract.
The Kings have been rumored as a possible destination for Iginla, largely because of his relationship with Sutter, who was both the general manager and coach in Calgary (and actually signed Iginla to his current contract). Sutter is usually unstinting in his praise and admiration for two of his former players, Iginla and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, so if Iginla becomes available, the Kings almost certainly will make an inquiry.
However, there are many stumbling blocks to a possible transaction. Iginla has a no-trade clause in his contract, says he's happy in Calgary, and the Flames have never been sellers at the deadline.