Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings plays against the St. Louis Blues at the Staples Center on Dec. 11, 2008. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
It’s funny how things work themselves out sometimes. When the Los Angeles Kings selected defenseman Drew Doughty with the second overall pick in last summer’s draft, it wasn’t so much about need as it was taking the best player available.
After all, Steven Stamkos was the consensus No. 1 and in terms of youth, the Kings were pretty booked at every position. In goal, the future will feature some combination of Jonathan Bernier, Jeff Zatkoff, Jon Quick and Erik Ersberg. The forwards are too numerous to mention, but Oscar Moller and Wayne Simmonds are just two of this year’s graduates. On defense, Jack Johnson was one part of the master plan, with Thomas Hickey another.
But here’s where it gets interesting: In taking Doughty second and fellow blueliner Colten Teubert 13th overall, the Kings essentially twinned the skilled Hickey and mean-spirited Johnson – not a bad future foursome.
And while Doughty was tabbed as an offensive defenseman, he has succeeded with the Kings in his rookie campaign on a squad where the defensive aspect of the game is being preached more than the offensive. Which, ironically, is very similar to the defensive team he played for last season – the Ontario League’s Guelph Storm.
As THN Kings correspondent Rich Hammond wrote in the current issue of The Hockey News, Los Angeles is surviving on their defense this season, not the vaunted offense expected from players such as Anze Kopitar, Patrick O’Sullivan and Alexander Frolov. New coach Terry Murray made it his mission early on to have his charges protect the front of the net and play solidly in its own zone, which, given the collective experience in goal since Jason LaBarbera was traded, was a smart move.
Now, looking at Doughty’s major junior numbers, not to mention his amazing end-to-end skills, you wouldn’t think structured zone pressure would be high on his list of fun things to do in a hockey game. But the Storm team he played for thrived in low-scoring affairs and Doughty still got his points. Whip back to the present and the youngster is once again playing well in a system based on keeping pucks out instead of pumping them in.
Despite just turning 19 a month ago, Doughty leads all Kings in ice time at 23:45 per game, a full minute and change more than Kyle Quincey (who is also having a great season). He’s also the top L.A. defenseman in terms of power play time on ice, just edging out Tom Preissing. And despite the fact he leads the team in turnovers with 48, he’s also third in takeaways with 23, best among the blueliners.
What does that all mean? It means Doughty is comfortable taking on responsibility and the Kings are comfortable giving it to him. Another rather hidden aspect of Doughty’s junior career was his job with Team Canada at the 2008 World Junior Championship. Once again, despite his natural offensive capabilities, Doughty embraced the role of a shutdown defender and though he had four assists in seven games, it was his locking down of opponents that helped Canada win gold.
Doughty still hauls the puck up ice with a slickness not often seen in NHL defensemen these days, but he has also firmly established there are more than a few arrows in his professional quiver.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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