Kings’ focus on player development paying off for Madden

Photo: Abbotsford Canucks

📝 by Patrick Williams

Each member of the Ontario Reign roster aims to reach the National Hockey League. That is the mission.

So, as the parent Los Angeles Kings see it, it makes sense to surround those American Hockey League prospects with ample NHL teaching. To start, the Reign practice on a full-time basis at Toyota Sports Performance Center in El Segundo, Calif., the same National Hockey League facility that the Kings call their home. They skate there, they train there, and they immerse themselves fully in an NHL environment.

With one of the top prospect bases in all of hockey, Los Angeles also heavily emphasizes personalized one-on-one instructional time for prospects. So the Kings have built a small battalion of development coaches that is heavy on NHL know-how. Jarret Stoll played 872 regular-season NHL games as a do-it-all type of forward. Sean O’Donnell built a long NHL career as a tough defenseman and finished with 1,224 NHL regular-season games to his name. Another retired NHL blueliner, Matt Greene, put in 615 regular-season games at the NHL level. Greene and Stoll each won two Stanley Cups with Los Angeles, and O’Donnell won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim. Another development coach, former Kings forward Mike Donnelly, played 465 games during NHL regular-season play. Add up that experience among the four, and they combined for 3,177 NHL regular-season games.

Moreover, all four development coaches once spent time in the AHL as prospects themselves. Before going on to those lengthy NHL careers, they went through those ups and downs of the development process that today’s Ontario players experience.

But through a family connection, Ontario forward Tyler Madden had access to some of that elite NHL insight even before he joined the Los Angeles organization in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 17, 2020.

That connection?

Madden’s father. John Madden, the former elite two-way forward who built an NHL career that any AHL player would envy.

The elder Madden took the same path that his son is charting right now. As a New Jersey Devils free-agent signing following a standout four-year career at the University of Michigan, he spent two seasons with the AHL’s Albany River Rats. The Devils-River Rats union produced a slew of NHL talent that sent New Jersey on to three Stanley Cup championships between 1995 and 2003. Along the way, Madden played 898 NHL regular-season contests and won the Selke Trophy in 2001 as the NHL’s top defensive forward. Moreover, Madden, now a San Jose Sharks assistant coach, knows the AHL from a behind-the-bench perspective as well having spent three seasons between 2016 and 2019 guiding the Cleveland Monsters.

As for Tyler, he has taken a somewhat similar route to his father, at least so far.

After Vancouver made him a third-round pick in 2018, he spent two seasons at Northeastern, where he was a member of the Hockey East All-Rookie Team and received an All-Star Team Honorable Mention nod in 2018-19 as the Huskies took the conference championship. In that same season, he won a silver medal with the United States at the World Junior Championship. A year later, he took a spot on Hockey East’s First All-Star Team and then turned pro in 2020-21 with Ontario.

Photo: Ontario Reign

Last season the Reign featured 11 rookies as regulars, including Madden, and that inexperience showed early. Dealing with an injury, Madden finished with five points in 14 games and just one goal. But Ontario and Madden each steadily progressed throughout that season, and the Reign ended up being a danger late-season opponent.

Those youthful mistakes last season would set up the Reign for a blistering start this season at 9-0-0-1. Some of that beginning has been blunted since that beginning, but 16-6-2-1 Ontario still holds a grip on second place in the Pacific Division going into today’s matinee with the first-place Stockton Heat.

With the recalls of Martin Frk and Alex Turcotte to the Kings, Ontario will be leaning even more on Madden, who has put up 13 points (eight goals, five assists) through 23 appearances this season. The organization thinks highly enough of Madden to have him on a line with first-round picks Quinton Byfield and Gabriel Vilardi, and Madden contributed an assist in Ontario’s 5-4 overtime win against the San Diego Gulls at Toyota Arena on Saturday night.

On that goal, Madden broke free at the left circle, took a cross-ice feed from Byfield, and pumped a shot on net that Vilardi then managed to jam past San Diego goaltender Francis Marotte. With wins against the Gulls and Bakersfield Condors amid of stretch of eight of nine contests at home, now is the time for Ontario to bank points. At the end of the month, the Reign face a run of 12 of 14 games on the road.

For Madden, having a father who played 15 pro seasons, 12 of them in the NHL, is an excellent resource that he utilized while moving through hockey.

“It comes back to…consistency,” Madden said. “That was a big thing he always talked about. That’s how you’re going to make it in [the AHL] and make it to the next level.

“But besides that, it’s sticking with it. He said guys sometimes can have… not bad games, but they make the plays [yet] they don’t get rewarded. So it’s always just not getting down on yourself, and once the game’s over, you move on to the next one.”

Since coming to the Southern California, Tyler Madden now has daily access to more NHL names as he works to iron out details in his game and eventually compete for a job with the Kings.

“I stayed in L.A. this summer to train and work with the development team here,” Madden said. “They always are able to, especially in the summer, help me out with my game a lot and tell me what I can get better at.

“And then also during the season, they come out in the ice with us, and if they see some things ― maybe my wall play wasn’t great or they see a little thing that I can get better at or have a little tip or trick for me ― they’ll let me know. That’s really helped me out a lot.

“Obviously coming from those guys, they know exactly what they’re talking about.”