Toffoli, Pearson pass test in L.A.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- It seems almost hard to believe that some seven months ago, when the Los Angeles Kings broke camp, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson weren't part of the group.

On Sept. 29, they were sent down to AHL Manchester to begin the season, even though Toffoli had played in 12 postseason games with the Kings last spring. The team's brain trust believed both youngsters needed just a bit more seasoning.

"I think there's a difference between making a team and being ready," Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said as he sat back in his office chair Wednesday. "It's analogous at times to how you see these quarterbacks in football, 'OK, he makes the team, but is he ready?' You see a young QB make a bad team in the NFL. 'OK, he's made the team, but is he really ready?' There's a difference. Given that the role both these kids will one day play for us, higher up in our lineup, it requires more training. It's a more difficult job description. I think we felt, the old adage, nobody ever failed from being over-prepared."

Toffoli, who turned 22 on April 24, and Pearson, who turns 22 in August, are thoroughbreds. They're going to play top-six roles on this team for years to come. The belief was they should hone those top-six skills in the AHL until they were ready to play a similar role at the NHL level, instead of staying up and toiling as extra parts.

"Nobody was ever better at this than Detroit," Lombardi said in a nod to the Red Wings organization and how it has developed players over the years.

How did the kids respond?

Well, Toffoli went down and scored 15 goals in 18 games.

"You obviously wanted to send a message and say that you shouldn't be in that league anymore," Toffoli said Wednesday on the eve of Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals versus the Anaheim Ducks.

Lombardi's eyes widened as he talked about going to see Pearson play an AHL game earlier this season.

"It was a game in Providence and I had told him I would be there in the building," the Mad Professor said. "He had two goals and an assist, and was the game's first star. I remember thinking, 'That's how do you do it. Stick it right up my ass.' He was awesome."

They both were awesome with Manchester. Their response to that demotion was important.

"That's part of the test," Lombardi said. "Are you going to go down there and get better or are you going to pout? That's part of the player's growth."

Both were called up Feb. 19 for the third time this season, but also the final time. And their skill and speed helped the Kings into a strong post-Olympic run.

"They've still got a lot of work to do," Lombardi cautioned. "But you see some of the things, to be able to play in an environment like San Jose in the playoffs, that's a big challenge for a young player. That's the other thing you've got in your mind, 'OK, he's ready to play in the league. But is he ready to go into San Jose and play in that environment? That's a whole other level.' You saw their poise level."

Toffoli scored in Game 5 and Game 7 at San Jose. Pearson collected an assist in Game 5 and posted a goal and an assist in Game 7.

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