John Gardner still laughs when describing his first impression of Tyler Madden:

“A skinny little kid,” the Connecticut prep hockey coach says.

That was five years ago, when Madden arrived at Avon Old Farms boarding school, where Gardner coaches, as a newly enrolled ninth-grader on the junior varsity team, even smaller than his current 5-foot-11, 155-pound size.

His stature, however, was deceiving.

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The product of a strong hockey background — Madden came to the male-only academy from Florida, where his dad, former NHLer John Madden, was an assistant coach with the Panthers — Madden quickly built up his own personal pedigree. His once uncertain long-term potential became clear. Gardner realized the type of prospect he had on his hands.

“I could see his talent,” said Gardner, who once coached Kings goalie Jonathan Quick at Avon. “We put him on the varsity team at the end of the season. He was tearing up the junior varsity team.”

Thus began a path that reached a major milestone last week, when Madden, now 20 years old and counted among hockey’s most promising prospects, had his rights traded to the Kings from the Vancouver Canucks.

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In the last five years, the puck-possessing, play-making centerman became the captain at Avon and excelled in the U.S. Hockey League. He was picked by the Canucks in the third round of the 2018 NHL draft and represented the U.S. in the World Junior Championships that winter. He has spent the past two seasons starring collegiately at Northeastern University, tied for fourth nationally in goals this season before being sidelined by a recent thumb injury.

With the Kings, he is the newest potential piece of the franchise’s future, the biggest prospect they acquired in their series of trades leading up to Monday’s NHL deadline.

“[He was] upbeat, positive, excited about the opportunity with L.A.,” said his college coach, Jim Madigan, who spoke with Madden following last Monday’s deal in which the Kings also acquired forward Tim Schaller, a 2020 second-round pick and conditional 2022 fourth-round pick in exchange for Tyler Toffoli.

“He had some good conversations with L.A. leading into the draft [in 2018], so to him it made sense.”

Gardner and Madigan, who were each reached by phone last week, raved about a player they’ve each spent two seasons coaching. They lauded Madden’s trademark skills, describing him as a strong skater with slick hands, but were equally impressed with his development as a two-way presence.

Northeastern’s Tyler Madden warming up before a game.

Northeastern’s Tyler Madden warming up before a game.

(Jim Pierce / Northeastern)

“He was always a work in progress,” Gardner said. “The good thing about him was, there was a lot of progress. He loved the game, and he worked at it. He’s one of those guys who really wanted to be on the ice all the time.”

“He’s a confident young man,” Madigan said. “But he works at it. There’s no arrogance to his game … He’s a gritty kid and he wasn’t in a hurry. Every step he just got better and better.”

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Indeed, Madden surpassed expectations at every turn. After being left off the NHL Central Scouting System’s initial ratings of draft-eligible prospects at the start of his draft season in 2017-18, he was picked 68th overall by the Canucks. The summer before playing in the World Juniors, the U.S. didn’t even invite him to a 42-player showcase camp. He made the team anyway and scored three goals in seven games.

And with 65 points (31 goals, 34 assists) in 63 career college games, he joined seven other current Kings prospects in last month’s update to the Hockey Writers’ top-100 NHL prospects list.

“When you watch him play, you’re going to see puck possession,” Madigan said. “He wants the puck on his stick. He makes good plays. He’s got great on-ice awareness and skates to the quiet areas. He can buy time and makes a lot of plays. And then he can score, he can finish. He’s got a good shot. An accurate shot.”

Madden has also adopted the all-around attributes of his father, a three-time Stanley Cup champion and the 2001 Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward.

“[His dad] laid some groundwork for Ty,” Madigan said. “He battles down low. He’s a gritty kid. That’s an ingredient he picked up from his father.”

Added Gardner, with a laugh: “The only rap I have on him is, he thinks he is a lot bigger than he is physically. He’s got the heart of the lion … He wasn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas where he knew he was going to get hit. He wasn’t afraid to step into anybody.”

It’s too soon to know if Madden will sign a contract with the Kings this offseason. First, he’ll have to recover from a thumb injury that is expected to keep him out for several weeks. But given his steady upward trajectory, it’s possible he could be ready to play professionally next season.

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“He’ll adjust to the NHL game,” said Madigan, who compared Madden to Canucks forward Adam Gaudette, a former Hobey Baker Award winner at Northeastern. “Certainly the offensive part is his calling card, but he’ll adjust to being more thorough — and he’s thorough already for us — but he’ll understand he’s not going to have that latitude that we give him. He’ll adapt his game.”

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