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Tyler Toffoli hopes to take big step

Kings forward thinks leading NHL in goals is real possibility

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

Every season since Los Angeles Kings forward Tyler Toffoli broke into the NHL with two goals in 10 games in 2012-13 he has leapt forward: 12 goals in 62 games in 2013-14, 23 in 76 in 2014-15 and 31 in 82 last season.

Now, as the Kings open this season at the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN), he wants to leap ahead of everyone else.

"I'm pretty competitive so I want to do better," Toffoli said. "I want to score more goals. At the end of the day, if you can lead the NHL in goals, that's a really huge accomplishment. So there's definitely strides to take."

Lead the NHL in goals? A really huge accomplishment? That's a really huge understatement. As much as Toffoli scored last season, 15 players scored more than he did. The winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy, Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, scored 19 more than he did.

Video: LAK@VAN: Toffoli buries his 30th goal to open scoring

For Toffoli to make that kind of step, he will have to make a really huge leap, a bigger one than ever before.

But he isn't being cocky. He is being unsatisfied. He is setting the bar high.

"I think that'd be anybody's goal," Toffoli said. "Obviously it would be a really huge season, but that's why you play the game."

And isn't that what you want from a player, especially a player who is 24 and talented?

"That's probably pretty accurate, what he's saying," Toffoli's center Jeff Carter said. "He has the potential to do that. He knows that. We all know that. …

Video: EDM@LAK: Toffoli notches his second goal of the game

"He's a smart kid. He understands that people always expect more. He pushes himself too. He has a couple tough games, he gets on himself. He's out there working. He's not a kid that has a big year and thinks he's got it made."

After the Kings selected Toffoli in the second round (No. 47) of the 2010 NHL Draft, he scored 57 goals in 68 games for Ottawa of the Ontario Hockey League in 2010-11.

But like most junior players, he had to learn how to be a professional: How to train, how to eat, how to compete against men night after night under the spotlight. He spent most of his first pro season with Manchester of the American Hockey League. He played some of his second pro season there too.

"You don't just all of a sudden become a well-trained great [NHL player]," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said.

Even in training camp last season, when he was coming off a 23-goal season, when he was about to have a 31-goal season, Toffoli wasn't in great shape.

"He had a sluggish camp last year," Sutter said. "He would admit that. Didn't feel good all camp."

Video: LAK@DAL: Toffoli and Shore extend lead on give-and-go

Things have changed.

Toffoli, who scored seven goals in 26 games during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs to help the Kings win the Cup, had no goals in five games in the 2016 playoffs as the Kings lost to the Sharks in the Western Conference First Round. After leading the NHL with a plus-35 rating during the regular season, he was minus-5.

"I didn't perform the way I wanted to in the playoffs," Toffoli said. "There's definitely motivation there."

Toffoli didn't play for Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Championship and started training earlier in the offseason. He also stayed in Los Angeles, working out with a group of teammates and trainers at the Kings practice facility.

"Quite honest, that's a huge benefit to him because you have the luxury of training with Jeff Carter, Alec Martinez, guys that come in every day and are very diligent in how they work," Sutter said.

Video: LAK@ANA: Toffoli lifts his shot, gives Kings the lead

In training camp this year, Toffoli wasn't sluggish. He was "a lot sharper," Sutter said.

Toffoli said he "definitely took some strides" and has been "feeling pretty good."

"You don't see too many guys that come in and know what it takes," Carter said. "His first couple years kind of really opened his eyes. He's really put the work in, and it's shown on the ice.

"We're going to be leaning on him a lot this year in the room, on the ice, everywhere. He's not a rookie anymore. He's not a young guy. He's been around for a while. So it's a big year for him. He knows that. He's ready for it."

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