Forwards Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson have long been considered big parts of the future of the Kings, but when the two wingers get together, things happen fast. After helping the team secure its second Stanley Cup in three years last spring, it’s clear Toffoli and Pearson’s future is now.
“We had chemistry very early,” Pearson says with an understated modesty.
Indeed, Toffoli and Pearson are not only fast skaters, but quick studies. Playing on a line with veteran Jeff Carter between them, the pair combined for 11 goals and 19 playoff points during last spring’s Cup run. In the process, they became known collectively as “That 70s Line,” surpassing Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor, and Charlie Simmer - in name if not numbers - as arguably the Kings’ most clever line.
Carter is a world-class player that will get his points regardless of what linemates he is teamed with. But the veteran’s 10 goals and 25 points were a career-best in the postseason, confirming the obvious; there is much more to this line than a catchy name and a veteran star carrying two youngsters.
Pearson and Toffoli each made an impact, but their similarities go beyond that. They are both 22 years old, both hail from Ontario, and both have worked hard to improve their skating ability. But the pair arrived in Los Angeles via decidedly different roads. Toffoli, who has always been a natural goal-scorer, was the Kings’ second-round draft pick (47th overall) in 2010. Pearson was more of a late bloomer, going undrafted twice before the Kings selected him in the first round (30th overall) of the 2012 Entry Draft.
Toffoli is known for his ability to find his way into the smallest of seams in the offensive zone and a knack for burying his opportunities.
“When I am on my game,” Toffoli says, “I find that I create my own space by hitting someone or being later in the play. I feel comfortable when I have the space and, when I have the time and space, I can make a play and get some shots on net.”
Much of Toffoli’s ability to find the back of the net can be attributed to ability to release his shot quickly when he is in front of the net. Toffoli spent a portion of his off-season working with a weighted puck in an effort to improve his release, effectively taking a strength and making it even stronger.
“I tried to shoot some over the summer and continue to get my release quicker and my shot harder,” Toffoli told LA Kings Insider.
Kings Head Coach Darryl Sutter has been impressed with Toffoli, almost from the day he arrived at the team’s El Segundo training facility.
“He’s got all the attributes to be really good in the NHL,” Sutter said after one of Toffoli’s first practices with the Kings back in 2013. “He’s got good instincts. He is an impressive young player. He is going to be a really good player. He is a good player now.”
Toffoli’s ability to put the puck in the net can be traced to an innate desire to score. It’s a characteristic a lot of goal-scorers possess, one that has led to Luc Robitaille comparisons.
“It’s obviously cool,” he says, “but Luc Robitaille is an amazing hockey player. It’s definitely eye-opening to hear that compliment, but I have a long way to go to get where he ended up.”
While Toffoli isn’t quite buying the Robitaille comparison, he has no problem admitting that he loves to put the puck on net.
“I like to shoot the puck,” he says. “You can tell that by looking at my stats. I get more goals than assists. I like to get the puck to the net and get a lot of opportunities in the offensive zone. I also like to be good on the boards, and get pucks out and do all the little things right.”
The scouting report on Pearson reveals a player with good instincts and a willingness to battle for the puck along the walls. Nelson Emerson, who works in the Kings’ player development department, says something else stands out about Pearson’s game.
“What you really notice about Tanner,” Emerson says, “is that the puck jumps off his stick.”
Pearson also scores high in intangibles. When he was twice passed over the draft, it only fueled his desire to make it in the NHL.
“It’s a nice story,” Kings Vice President of Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel Michael Futa told ESPN.com “Some kids pack their bags and go home when they’re not drafted. In Tanner’s case, he met all the different challenges put forth to him.”
Pearson says it wasn’t so much a matter of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles as it was doing what comes naturally. He grew up loving the game and it wasn’t as much about perseverance as it was about a player who wasn’t ready to stop playing.
“Hockey in Canada is so big,” Pearson says. “You always want to be on the ice when you are a kid. Everyone wants to be party of the game. Every Canadian hockey wants to make it as far as you can. You do whatever it takes to keep their career going, so you do whatever it takes.”
Toffoli and Pearson also have something else in common that puts them on a faster track than most of their predecessors with the Kings: They each won a Stanley Cup in what was, essentially, their first season in the NHL. Only Slava Voynov, Dwight King and Jordan Nolan accomplished the feat in Los Angeles prior to Toffoli and Pearson.
“It was indescribable,” Toffoli says of a postseason run that saw the Kings win three Game 7s and rally from 3-0 series deficit against San Jose.
“It was even more indescribable when we won it. It was memorable, especially to share it with your family because they are the ones that helped me get to where I am today.”
Toffoli says much of his success stems from the fact that he was what he regards as the ideal hockey parents in that they were always supportive, but never pushy.
“Growing up, my parents were never too strict about me playing hockey,” he says. “They only wanted me to play hockey if I wanted to play. Obviously, I am still playing today, and I still love it as much as I did when I first started playing back home in Ontario, so it’s worked out great.”
During Pearson’s day with the Cup last summer, his celebration included a stop by the offices of the Kitchener Rangers, his old team in the Ontario Hockey League.
“I took it back to Kitchener for the day with my family and friends,” Pearson says. “We and did a little public thing for the community there, so they could come out and get autographs and pictures. It was fun to look at the little kids faces. I was taking pictures and there was a group of about 20 kids that were maybe 10 years old. They were all in awe of the Cup, so it was pretty cool.”
The scene he describes is not far from the way it felt for Kings fans as they watched Pearson and Toffoli hoisting the Stanley Cup last June at STAPLES Center.
Young kids. Stanley Cup. Pretty cool.
Pearson is currently recovering from an ankle injury. In 42 games this year he has 16 points including 12 goals (he also has a plus-14 rating). Toffoli, in 56 games played this season entering action on Tuesday, has 39 points (third on the team) including 19 goals (second on the squad). He also enjoys a plus-20 rating.