“Gonna go where the bright lights
And the big city meet
With a red guitar, on fire”
— Desire, U2
Tyler Madden’s nickname started flippantly in an exchange with his Northeastern University hockey teammates. After scoring two story-book goals as a freshman, his Huskies buds talked to him about coming through at the right time.
His response: “I play my best when the bright lights are on.”
And thus “Bright Lights” Madden was how they would now refer to him. That anecdote came via Northeastern coach Jim Madigan during a phone interview Monday.
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Madden signed an entry-level contract last month with the Los Angeles Kings, who were impressed enough with the forward to trade veteran winger Tyler Toffoli to the Vancouver Canucks for his rights. Where Madden fits into the Kings’ youth movement is not completely clear, but it’s possible the kid — who was drafted by the Canucks with the 68th overall choice in the 2018 NHL Draft — may be on a relatively fast track to the big club.
Madigan thinks Madden will see at least some NHL action next season. And that is not far-fetched. After Madden signed with Los Angeles, general manager Rob Blake that Madden has “high-end vision and skill.” (from ‘Kings Sign Prospect Tyler Madden to entry-level contract,’ LA Times, March 30, 2020).
At 156 Pounds, Size Is a Question Mark
The biggest thing standing in Madden’s quest to be a top pro — and a common problem for someone Madden’s size — is that he’s only 5-foot-11 and 156 pounds.
“But he doesn’t absorb checks head-on very much,” Madigan said. “He’s slippery with very good vision and he distributes the puck very well and that allows him to play center. He can also score with skill and he’s a play-maker. He’s a very confident kid, a highly intelligent player, a very good skater and shifty in his skating ability. He is straight-line fast and has great lateral movement and agility. He wants the puck. He wants to be the guy who makes the play. He took on that role as a freshman, with the attitude that, ‘I’ll deliver for you.’ He’s on the high end with his confidence level.”
In his two seasons at Northeastern, Madden scored 31 goals with 34 assists in 63 games. The Huskies won the Hockey East tournament title in his freshman campaign and also captured Boston’s prestigious Beanpot tournament in both of his seasons there.
But what’s going to happen when Bright Lights and the Big City meet? Whether he makes it or not, Madden is going to bring the fire, according to Madigan.
If he’s playing in the NHL next year, it won’t be a surprise. If he doesn’t, it’s going to mean the same as for a lot of people, that he needs to get games under his belt. If he makes it in camp or if he starts in the AHL, he will play in the NHL next season at some point. He’s determined and that’s something you have to have. He’s got talent, skill and a drive to be a successful NHL player.Jim Madigan, Northeastern coach, on Kings prospect Tyler Madden
And Madigan is not oblivious to what the rebuilding Los Angeles franchise is envisioning for Madden.
“He was the main cog in the trade for Toffoli, so obviously that tells you right there how much L.A. thinks about him,” Madigan said. “In the few conversations I’ve had with them, I know how they think about him. I think he’ll get every opportunity to play (next season). Tyler knows they’re going through a transition. He wants to prove people wrong about being too small. That fuels the kid. He’s saying to them, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do that.'”
Mimicking Snow Angels and Canoe Paddling Led to “Bright Lights”
And that bright lights thing? Madigan said the name was born after two clutch Madden goals — and his ensuing creative celebrations — in big-time situations.
“Those two times will always come to mind,” the Northeastern coach said. “Against BU in the first game of the Beanpot in 2019, he scored on a breakaway for a 2-1 overtime win. He gets down on the ice and does a snow angel. His celebrations are awesome. Here he is a freshman at the Boston Garden and he has the confidence to do that.
“Two weeks earlier, against UMass-Amherst, it’s the same situation, 1-1 in overtime, he comes down on a partial breakaway and scores. And then he gets down and does this canoe paddling thing. These were timely celebrations and he wasn’t disrespecting opponents. In big moments, he loves to score. He’s got that confidence and a lot of that comes from being around the game. His dad (John Madden, a three-time Stanley Cup winner) was a smart player and there’s no better way to learn it than from an NHL player. But he doesn’t rely on that. He wants to make his own mark and he did that for us for two years.”
According to Dobber Prospects, Madden has an NHL certainty rating of 9.0 (on a scale of 10, the odds of a player becoming a full-time NHL player). He was a Hobey Baker Award nominee and won a silver medal with the U.S. team at the 2019 World Junior Championship.
The Kings’ Forward Crop Is Deep
The Kings’ youth pipeline is deep, with lots of forwards projected to make some noise in the near future, and the franchise’s farm system is ranked No. 1 in the NHL by The Hockey Writers.
“(Alex) Turcotte and (Rasmus) Kupari could be one of the best one-two punches in the NHL in a few years. The Kings have numerous… high-end forwards, from Carl Grundstrom (acquired from the Maple Leafs in the Jake Muzzin trade) to Akil Thomas, to Gabe Vilardi, to Aidan Dudas, This is a very exciting crop of forwards.”Josh Bell, The Hockey Writers
Turcotte was the No. 5-overall pick in 2019. Kupari went 20th, Thomas 51st and Dudas 113th in 2018. In 2017, Vilardi was the 11th-overall pick. Grundstrom, meanwhile, scored 5 goals in 15 games after a late call-up to the Kings this spring.
That mention by Bell about the up-and-coming forwards did not include Samuel Fagemo, who is starring in the Swedish Hockey League, or Arthur Kaliyev, who finished fifth in OHL scoring with 44 goals and 54 assists for the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2019-20.
So “Bright Lights” Madden — one of many who have the potential to make L.A. glow offensively over the next few years — has some work to do. But the Kings do need what he and those other forward prospects offer — the ability to put the puck in the net and the creativity to set up those chances. After all, goal scoring has been a sore spot; the Kings’ 2.5 goals per game ranked 30th out of 31 teams in the COVID-19 shortened season.
A quick look at Madden’s YouTube highlights reveals a quick release on his accurate shot and a subtle ability to find space.
Madigan also used “sneaky and deceptive” to describe Madden and hinted that if you’re defending him, you might want to watch him like a hawk because you might not know what he’s up to until it’s too late.
“He’s also a prankster,” Madigan said. “He and some of his buddies got a kick out of doctoring my stick, fooling around and giving me a new knob.”
Irritation for Madigan. But chuckles all around, right?
That skillful deception was minor. More in line with what Madden has in mind as he sets out on his professional journey is seeing an annoyed NHL goaltender who has to look behind himself and realize that somehow — as impossible as it might have seemed seconds ago — he’s been beaten.