MANCHESTER -- Breaking into the NHL isn't an easy process. It might be even harder in the Los Angeles Kings organization.
At 21 years old, Manchester Monarchs winger Tyler Toffoli is learning just how tough it is to stick in the NHL. Toffoli has been back and forth between L.A. and Manchester several times this season, logging 39 NHL games (10 goals, nine assists) and 16 with the Monarchs (13 goals, seven assists).
But you won't hear Toffoli complain.
"He's been great. He's a mature guy. You never hear him complain. He's of the understanding that this is the way (Kings general manager Dean Lombardi) does his business and he wants guys to earn it and I know (Kings coach Darryl Sutter) hasn't given him a ton of ice up until he got a chance to play with guys like (Anze) Kopitar," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "I thought he's handled it quite well. He's one of those guys where he's the least of my worries as far as him dragging his lip around. I don't think he'd do that. He has a real professional way about him."
Toffoli said he has accepted the back and forth as part of the process of becoming a full-time NHL player.
"It's tough having to travel and coming from L.A. to here or last time having to go all the way to St. John's, but you just have to deal with it. It's adversity and you've got to get better and it's part of the growing process," Toffoli said. "You can't complain that you're going back to L.A. or if you're coming back to help the guys here. You do whatever you can to help the team win on the scoresheet or whatever it is."
Toffoli also understands there are no free passes with Sutter, a no-nonsense coach who isn't shy about letting players (and everyone else) know when he is not happy with a player's performance. Toffoli has found himself in Sutter's doghouse this year.
"You've got to earn your ice time in L.A. There's a couple games where I won't play and I'm not playing very well and then when I'm on my game and working hard then Darryl lets me play and gives me the shifts. It's part of the learning process and to get me as good as I can be," Toffoli said. "They know and we know that I can be better and be more consistent so coming down here I've just got to work on everything. It's not one specific thing, it's just getting better and being consistent."
Toffoli was impressive on Friday night, recording a hat trick to lead the Monarchs to a 5-1 win over Worcester. It was Toffoli's fourth hat trick and set a franchise record. Teamed with former linemates Linden Vey (four assists in the game) and Tanner Pearson (goal) - both of whom have also been back and forth to L.A. this year - the line clicked again.
"They've had a lot of practice together over time and I think when they're all focused and when they're competing hard and (going) hard on pucks and making sure they're finishing checks and winning faceoffs, those little details for them really are accentuated with their ability to finish," Morris said. "If they don't have the puck they're going to be ineffective so we want them to be collectively good on the forecheck and defending. When they're doing those things we're going to play in the offensive end more often."
IceCaps in town today: After playing in Hartford Saturday night, the Monarchs return to Verizon Wireless Arena today for a 3 p.m. game with St. John's. The IceCaps are right behind Manchester in the Atlantic Division standings and are 6-3-0 against the Monarchs this season.
Morris said he expected Martin Jones to play all three games in net this weekend. With rookie J.F. Berube assigned to L.A. to keep the Kings at their required two goaltenders on the roster during the Olympic break, Jones should see all the action between the pipes.
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Veteran forward Colin Fraser, recently sent to Manchester from L.A., is expected in town this week. The rumor is that Fraser had a previous commitment during the Olympic break and the Kings are allowing him to honor it.
Fraser's stay in Manchester is expected to be an extended one and with 358 NHL games on his resume, he should be a big help to the Monarchs.
"That's going to be an adjustment for him," Morris said of Fraser's return to the minors. "But at the same time, he's a character guy and just like (former Manchester captain) Marc-Andre Cliche, not known for a lot of scoring but he's a dependable player and I think having him around our team will be good because he's a pro."
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.