Not sure if anyone has noticed, but there have been a Whole Lotta Luff puns made on social media over the last month.
Since his second recall of the season in mid-November, Matt Luff has worked his way throughout the Kings’ forward lines and into the hearts of Kings fans. Luff found the back of the net in his third game back from the AHL’s Ontario Reign, a wrist shot from the slot against the St. Louis Blues, which sparked a four-game goal-scoring streak for Luff.
“I just kind of blacked out and shot my shot and it went in,” he admitted after his first goal against the Blues.
The endearment with Luff, stemming from coaches, teammates and fans alike, has been most widely broadcast from the young forward’s ability to find the back of the net, which he has done seven times in his first 21 games, a 27-goal pace translated out over an 82-game season.
What Luff has brought is what the Kings have lacked: Goalscoring.
“Matt Luff, he’s playing some darn good hockey up there,” Ontario Reign Head Coach Mike Stothers said. “They’re looking for somebody to score and there’s a guy that’s figured out, ‘Hey, I want to stay’, so put the puck in the net, make a contribution, do it consistently, so good on Luffer.”
For Luff, it’s been a combination of shooting the puck, breakaways that showcase his hands and, yes, one into the empty net (they all count the same!). While seven goals over just 21 games is a small sample size, Luff’s ability to find the back of the net has provided him with a niche in the Kings lineup and has kept him up with the big club ever since that mid-November recall.
“I thought he looked really good,” teammate Alec Martinez said, following the Kings game on November 24 against Vancouver, where Luff scored a highlight-reel breakaway goal. “Obviously that was a really good move. He’s got a couple really good shots and a couple good goals.”
Things haven’t always gone in Luff’s favor, however.
Luff’s mid-November callup was not his first to the NHL. The Oakville, Ontario native had a three-game cup of coffee with the Kings prior to his most current tenure, where he was scoreless across three games and was promptly sent back to the Reign.
“The message to me, when I got sent down, was that they wanted me to be the hardest working guy on the ice,” Luff said about being sent down to Ontario after his first NHL stead.
Kings Head Coach Willie Desjardins echoed that message and noted a big improvement in the 6-2 winger’s game in his second go-around at the NHL level.
“When I sent him down last time, I talked to him about working harder, and he came back and he’s worked harder,” Desjardins said.
And there you have it.
Luff, who has earned his place in the lineup, has made any decision to return him to the AHL at this time extremely difficult, a dilemma that probably would not have been top of mind over the summer.
As you scoured over the offseason prospect rankings or the younger players to watch, Luff’s name wasn’t at the top of the list in the Kings organization. Dating back to the 2015 NHL Draft, Luff’s draft year, 211 players heard their name called, being selected by an NHL team – Luff was not one of them.
From that undrafted status, Luff earned an NHL deal with Los Angeles and went on to post a point-per-game season with OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, before he collected 29 points as a 20-year-old in the AHL during his most recent campaign with Ontario, followed up by six goals and 12 points from just nine AHL games this season.
Does a lack of the expectations that may weigh down a high draft pick make Luff’s success easier? As Stothers puts it, nothing is easy, considering it is the NHL, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
“Maybe that’s the beauty of it,” Stothers said of Luff not being an undrafted player. “It doesn’t always have to be the highly-touted and maybe it’s easier for him. By the word easier, I’m not saying it’s easy by any stretch of the imagination, but there isn’t the expectations or the accolades that come along with it. It’s almost easier for a guy to go into these situations and not much is expected of him, because of where he was drafted or if he wasn’t drafted in this case, and you exceed everybody’s [expectations].”
So put the puck in the net…
Such an easy concept, right?
As Desjardins noted, he’s not expecting Luff to be a guy that carries the Kings with goals.
“You can’t expect him to do that,” Desjardins said. “He’s going to be a good, solid player. That’s what we’ve got to look forward for him, and he’s done that and he’s given us more than that. If he goes two games or three games without scoring, it’s not like I’m going to be ‘Well, what’s wrong with him?’ You’ve got to expect that he’s a young player and he’s just finding his way.”
While it is that timely scoring touch that Luff has come to be known for by fans throughout STAPLES Center, the young winger’s only focus is on making sure he’s putting in his work, game-by-game.
“Game in and game out, I want to be one of the hardest working guys on the ice for this team,” Luff said. “I want to bring something to the table every game and I think that brings the consistency for my game, if I can say after every game, that I thought I was one of the hardest working guys.”
One of the hardest working guys … that is somebody to Luff.