Right winger Tyler Toffoli was the Canadiens’ true and significant unrestricted free agent signing this offseason, in the sense that he agreed to his contract without the team acquiring his rights in advance of the free agency period. This shoot first forward also brings a solid two-way game to his new team, which will benefit the Habs in different ways.
Last season, Tyler struggled offensively somewhat, along with the rest of his Los Angeles Kings teammates. He spent much of the time with the team’s top centre Anze Kopitar. His shooting frequency remained high during this time, indicating his effort in offensive situations remained high but results were not coming along. Before the trade deadline, Toffoli was dealt to the Vancouver Canucks.
After arriving with his new team, Toffoli immediately clicked into the Vancouver system. He especially jelled with Canucks centre Elias Petterson and produced ten points in ten games, before the pandemic interrupted the regular season. During that stretch of games, his shooting percentage was higher than ever before. When the play-in tournament began, Tyler suffered a lower-body injury in his first game against Minnesota which kept him out of the next ten games. He returned for the series against Vegas and played the last six games producing a respectable four points while playing with Petterson and Bo Horvat.
Season Stats: 68 GP, 24 goals, 20 assists, 44 points, -1 rating, 20 PIMS, 5 PPG, 4 GWG, 203 shots, 16:51 ATOI, 56.7 CF%
Playoff Stats: 7 GP, 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, -4 rating, 0 PIMS, 1 PPG, 11 shots, 15:46 ATOI, 49.6 CF%
5 Year Averages
(2019-20’s stats were extrapolated to an 82-game rate.)
Toffoli is usually used as a top-two line winger based on his experience in Los Angeles and Vancouver. But with right wingers Brendan Gallagher and Josh Anderson already on the Canadiens roster, he is likely to start the season on the third line. Head coach Claude Julien said they will experiment with Tyler on the left wing which will get him some time in the top two forward trios if he can adjust to playing his off-wing. I am optimistic he will perform well on the left wing given that he is a right-hand shot. If he cannot adjust and ends up on the third line more often than not, his strong penalty killing skills will still help the team.
Tyler is 28 years old, the same age as Gallagher, both of whom are two years older than Anderson. This veteran edge may give him a bit of advantage in terms of lineup options in case Anderson struggles in his role. To Toffoli’s advantage, his career season to date had him score more goals (31) and points (58) than Anderson’s (27 and 47 respectively), indicating his pure offensive skills are greater than Anderson’s. Given his shooting ability along with his two-way play, he could become an excellent second-line player for the Habs, with the ability to jump up one or down a spot.
When considering that Toffoli’s five year average for points, I want to point out it is only two behind the points for Brendan Gallagher. As such he should provide strong competition for a top two line position, whether it be on the right or left side. The Habs group of other top wingers include Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Drouin and this depth at forward is giving Habs fans much to look forward to this season. One thing working against Tyler is his streakiness at goal-scoring, although the same can be said at times for both Tatar and Drouin. So long as all of the team’s wingers don’t go into a scoring funk at the same time, the team should not suffer from his individual inconsistencies.
Aside from his ten regular season games with Vancouver, the last two seasons Toffoli has underperformed a little. It was likely tied to the struggles of the Kings which have been non-playoff teams recently. Tyler played in the playoffs for the first five seasons he was a regular in the NHL and helped the Kings win a Stanley Cup in 2013-14.
Tyler has often been effective when used on the power play, and that skill fits an enormous need for the Canadiens who have struggled with the man advantage the past few seasons. All of his five power play goals last season were scored at home, so it’s no doubt the Habs are looking for him to provide that level of production. I believe Tyler has a strong potential to exceed his five-year career average during his first season in Montreal.