By Greg Picker
The Los Angeles Kings made the playoffs the past two seasons thanks to good drafting that landed key players such as Anze Kopitar
, Dustin Brown
and Drew Doughty
That prospect pipeline continues to bubble new prospects to the top, with the latest being Linden Vey
and Tyler Toffoli
Vey, a 6-foot, 181-pound right wing, was taken in the fourth round of the 2009 Entry Draft. Last season with the Medicine Hat Tigers, he led the Western Hockey League in scoring with 116 points.
Toffoli, a 6-1, 183-pound center, was drafted in the second round in 2010. Playing with the Ottawa 67s, he led the Ontario Hockey League with 57 goals and tied for the OHL scoring lead with 106 points.
Those seasons certainly were noticed by their future NHL bosses, who noticed the improvement during the season, and more recently at the Kings' prospect development camp.
Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Michael Futa told NHL.com that in Vey's case, his off-ice conditioning needed to get better.
"He'd be the first to admit, but his lack of off-ice preparation and conditioning didn't allow him to maintain the same success he had (in the WHL)," Futa said.
Vey scored 75 points in 72 games during the 2009-10 season -- but that wasn't enough to impress general manager Dean Lombardi. According to Futa, Lombardi decided to send a message to Vey by not allowing him to dress for the rookie game at last year's prospect camp.
"It was just kind of an eye-opener," Vey said. "You look at it and you realize you've got to start putting in more effort into it. If hockey is something you want to pursue in life you've got to make sure to put the effort in."
"He could have gone either way," Futa said. "He could have packed it in and said, 'Oh my God, this is too much for me,' or he could take his conditioning seriously. He went the right way with his conditioning and his development. It's a complete credit to him buying in."
Vey bought in in a big way last summer, and said he dropped from 198 pounds to 180 before training camp started. Since then he said he's added eight pounds of muscle. He credits his workouts last summer for his successful season.
"I think going into the year it was the most prepared I was," Vey said. "Just conditioning-wise, I spent a lot of the summer refocusing myself, rededicating myself, putting more time in."
With nearly two more months until training camp opens, Vey said he'll keep working out hard. He works out six times a week and knows just because of his successful season in 2010-11, he still can improve his game in an attempt to make the Kings this season.
"I know you can never get too good at anything," he said. "You have to keep improving in all aspects of your game."
Toffoli has found himself in a similar situation. At training camp last season, he learned more of what was needed for him to take the next step.
"I think just going to training camp and just realizing how hard you have to work and just having to work hard and play hard every shift," Toffoli said. "You have to work hard; you have to work hard all the time on and off the ice."
Futa said that's exactly what the Kings' development staff helped Toffoli realize last summer.
"Tyler has so much natural ability and hockey sense, but really no road map on how to be a professional hockey player from a conditioning standpoint," Futa said. "The map was laid out for him from our training and conditioning coach to the development team and he really bought in."
One year later the results were clear on the scoresheet, but according to Futa, that's not the only place the results could be seen.
"His fitness testing was much improved at rookie camp and it was a credit to him to how hard he’s worked," Futa said.
After Toffoli's season ended, he got to play for the Manchester Monarchs, the Kings' American Hockey League affiliate. He scored a goal in the one regular-season game he played, and added another in five AHL playoff games. While the offense was nice, more important was the experience gained from playing against older competition.
"It definitely really helped me out," he said. "It showed me what the players are like in the American league and how hard they actually work and it was a good experience."
Despite his improvements last season, it's likely the Kings' depth up front means another season in the OHL for Toffoli.
"You can never say never, or put a cap on a kid's potential," Futa said, "but the reality of it is with the depth of our current roster, it's going to be a tough team to make."
While playing another season of junior hockey isn't ideal, it will allow Toffoli the chance to play for Canada in the 2012 World Junior Championship, which will be held in Calgary and Edmonton. He was cut from last year's team but has been invited back for the summer evaluation camp in Edmonton in August.
"It’d be amazing," Toffoli said of playing in the WJC. "This year would definitely be a lot different if I get the opportunity to play for Team Canada."
After proving this past season he has no trouble scoring at the OHL level, heading back to Ottawa also would allow Toffoli to work on his game in other areas.
"I definitely want to round out my game more," he said. "Obviously play better defense if I’m back."
Futa knows the Kings' back-to-back playoff appearances are a credit to the team's drafting and development, but realizes sustaining that success means continued success in picking players outside the first round.
"In order to really have success, the staff, you're going to have to start hitting on later picks," Futa said. "Right now it looks like some of those later picks are looking real strong."