The Magazine: The two faces of the Kings' Drew Doughty
Drew Doughty #8 of the Los Angeles Kings heads back for the puck during the game against the Ottawa Senators at Staples Center on October 9, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
The Magazine: The two faces of the Kings' Drew Doughty
To know Drew Doughty on and off the ice is to know two different people. Away from hockey, he’s affable, easygoing and downright charismatic. But strap skates on him and he becomes one of the most ferocious and dynamic players in the game.
When he and Wayne Simmonds, now of the Philadelphia Flyers, were teammates in Los Angeles, they were also roommates for a couple years and no friendship is immune to bumps in the road. “One time we were driving somewhere and he said something stupid,” Simmonds says. “So I threw his phone out the window. He kicked me out of the car and I wasn’t allowed back in for a week.” When confronted with this tale, Doughty laughs: “When you live with someone for a year, it’s different than if you’re living with a girl or whatever, you only see them when you’re at home. But with Wayne we were at the rink every day, out to dinner every day and you’re going to get in your fair share of battles. But it was all in good fun.” Doughty, 23, has accomplished an incredible amount since he entered the NHL straight from the 2008 draft. And with his ability to play big minutes and contribute in all situations, he will be a real consideration for the Norris Trophy throughout his career. On the ice, he’s a fierce competitor who excels on big stages. Off the ice? Dude is chill. It’s impossible to talk to people about Doughty without hearing the phrases “fun-loving” and “laid back.” “He’s a mellow guy,” says friend and St. Louis Blues right winger Chris Stewart. “He fits that L.A. lifestyle.”
Back at their pad, it was almost always decompression time for Doughty and Simmonds, even though L.A. is a wonderland of distractions. “There are a lot of things to do,” Doughty says. “We still enjoyed ourselves, we’d go to basketball and baseball games, some movie premieres, but besides that we were homebodies. You’re tired after a hard game, a hard practice. You just want to get home, chill on the couch, cook up the barbecue, watch TV and play video games.” Simmonds admits Doughty killed him at Call of Duty, but could exact some revenge at NHL ’09. Along with the camaraderie, and a guy who could man the second controller, Doughty found a fellow grunt in the two-way winger, a youngster trying to make his mark on a rebuilding squad that hadn’t placed better than third in the division since Y2K. The pair had won gold at the 2008 World Junior Championship together and made the Kings together one season later. “Unbelievable roommate,” Simmonds says. “The reason it worked so well is we had similar personalities. We liked to do the same things, probably both lazy off ice.” And therein lies the dichotomy, the Tao of Doughty as it would be: He shifts from cool off the ice to red hot on it seamlessly. Growing up in London, Ont., Doughty came from soccer stock, which is no surprise considering his British and Portuguese heritage. His dad, Paul, and mom, Connie, both played in their younger days, while his sister, Chelsea, plays for Niagara University and is named after Paul’s favorite Premiership side. Drew was a goalie growing up and played at a high level until he was 15, when major junior – future stardom in the Ontario League – beckoned. “I actually think playing soccer helped him with hockey,” Paul says. “He could sit back in net and watch the whole play develop in front of him.” Paul played soccer at a high level in Ontario and was a fierce competitor. He sees the same fire in his son and believes he knows the key to Drew’s success. “Desire,” Paul says. “Plain and simple. He always wanted to win, no matter what he was playing. If we were playing checkers, he didn’t want to lose.” The temper can come out, too, especially when there’s a lot on the line. Recall Doughty’s stick-banging fit during Game 5 of the Kings’ conference final series against Phoenix in 2012, when he was called for a bogus interference penalty in overtime (masterfully played by wily Coyotes veteran Ray Whitney, who covertly had Doughty’s stick locked out of sight from the ref).
Though he has just one fight to his name, a 2012 tilt with Joe Thornton, Doughty has littered the ice with the bodies of big names. Notable victims of his heavy hits include Pavel Datsyuk, Taylor Hall and Shane Doan, none of whom were ready for the quickness Doughty zeroed in on them with. “Him being as laid back as he is off the ice makes him a really good player,” Simmonds says. “He lets it translate to his game: he’s really confident with the puck, really calm, doesn’t make plays he doesn’t have to make. He makes the first play. But you can tell the intensity is there when he gets on the ice. He gets revved up for the game, he gets excited. You can tell he’s really into the game.” So far in his life, Doughty has stepped up when need be. As a star defenseman with the OHL’s Guelph Storm, he was the top defensive prospect for the 2008 NHL draft, ranking only behind center Steven Stamkos overall. But at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, there was one nagging question: his conditioning. Before the draft combine, the Kings visited the Doughty household and told Drew if he could get his weight down, they would take him that summer. Doughty put in the work and shed 20 pounds. He went from eating three big meals plus appetizers every day to six smaller meals, altering his metabolism in the process. Doughty’s dad thinks the weight storyline was overblown in the past. “He was playing 28, 29 minutes a night in Guelph,” Paul says. “At the draft, when we were up in the Kings’ suite, Jason Brooks (Guelph’s associate coach at the time) blamed himself, saying he didn’t make Drew practise all the time because he played so much during the games.” So far, Doughty has won the conditioning battle. His average ice time in the NHL over four seasons is 25 minutes per game, with a still-impressive 23:50 as a rookie representing his least amount. The fact he had veterans such as Sean O’Donnell on him early helped. O’Donnell was Doughty’s first defense partner in Los Angeles and preached the importance of preparation to his young charge. “It’s not junior anymore,” O’Donnell says. “Just showing up isn’t going to do it. Playing against men, you’ll get fatigued and that’s when you get hurt.” Doughty has largely escaped that bug, allowing his natural talents to do the talking for him on the ice. “He understood the game, he understood the nuances,” O’Donnell says. “It usually takes defensemen years to do that and some never get it. To see him do that as a 19-year-old, you knew he was special.” Another defenseman who knows a thing or two about success is Rob Blake, a Hall of Fame candidate and Stanley Cup winner who was recently hired by the Kings as assistant GM. Blake believes Doughty is one of the top defensemen in the NHL today, thanks to his ability to play on both sides of the puck and special teams. Honing that sense of the game will put Doughty over the top, in his opinion. “Less is more,” Blake says. “It’s easier to watch the play develop and be there, rather than having to take two hard strides back to catch up. The game tends to slow down more when you do that.” In a game against Detroit last season, Doughty rushed the puck up ice on the power play, only to turn it over just outside the Red Wings’ blueline. Dan Cleary got the puck up to Pavel Datsyuk, who charged down the ice for a shorthanded opportunity. But before the sublime Russian could do something filthy to netminder Jonathan Quick, Doughty blazed into the frame and cleanly steamrolled the sniper. Crisis averted, but lesson learned at the same time.
As fate would have it, Doughty grew up a Kings fan, owning the classic “Chevy logo” white jersey with the No. 99 on the back, but “Doughty” on the nameplate. He also had a black Kelly Hrudey sweater and a Kings phone. From the age of two, Doughty was begging his parents to let him stay up and watch hockey, but otherwise he was largely a problem-free kid. “It was a blast,” Paul says. “He was always fun-loving and when he did get in trouble, you could tell he really was remorseful.” But when Doughty is needed, he often steps up. Simmonds held a charity ball hockey tournament in Toronto’s east end over the summer, where he and Stewart grew up. Doughty made sure to trek out from London to be there. O’Donnell was recently hired by the Kings as manager of fan relations and alumni and by Fox as a broadcaster, but his new place in L.A. wasn’t ready in time when he moved back with his wife, a five-month-old baby and two small dogs. Doughty was still in London, so he told his old partner to use his pad in Hermosa Beach in the meantime. While O’Donnell offered to pay rent on the property, Doughty would have none of it: he appreciated all the advice the veteran had given him for free on the way up. Not that the road has been all sunshine and Stanley Cups. Doughty earned some unwanted headlines in the summer of 2012 when a young woman he knew accused him of date rape, but prosecutors in Los Angeles County refused to file charges, finding there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Doughty was co-operative with investigators throughout and has always maintained his innocence. The previous summer, Doughty went through some hardcore contract negotiations with the Kings while coming off his entry-level deal. The two sides eventually agreed on an eight-year, $56-million pact, but the dance went so long that Doughty missed all of training camp. “That was a tough point for me,” he says. “No one likes to hold out and have those disputes with their team. I was a young guy and people weren’t happy with me for doing it, but at the same time I thought I was doing the right thing. I had a slow start to the season, but in the end we won the Cup, so I’m not complaining.” Speaking of the Cup, the Kings couldn’t have done it without him. Doughty’s 16 points in 20 post-season games led all blueliners, while his 26:08 average time on ice was nearly a full minute more than any other player who competed in the final. When the Kings took out New Jersey in the sixth and decisive game, Doughty was front and center in the celebrations with Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick, who had a netminding display for the ages. “Throwing my gloves off, throwing my helmet off right in front of ‘Quicky,’ I was the first one to him,” Doughty says. “Me and ‘Quicky’ are best of friends and to be able to share that moment with him and the rest of the team, that was the best moment.”
Though Doughty has a pretty good backup best moment: the 2010 Olympics. That was the real jumping-off point, where the sophomore earned his way onto a blueline corps that included legends Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, then worked his way up onto a pairing with Chicago’s Duncan Keith, forming Canada’s most important tandem. This was made all the more remarkable by the fact Keith came to the tournament with regular Blackhawks ‘D’ partner Brent Seabrook, who took a lesser role thanks to Doughty’s excellent play. “The Olympics were a huge stepping stone,” O’Donnell says. “He could play against the best and he belonged in that conversation.” With the Olympics back this season, Doughty is a virtual lock to defend gold, along with fellow returnees Keith and Shea Weber. His talents will be especially valuable on the big ice in Russia, where skating and being elusive are rewarded. “He’s probably one of the most dynamic defensemen in the game,” says Stewart, whose Blues have fallen to the Kings two post-seasons in a row. “Not only is he strong defensively, he’s a guy you have to worry about every time he’s on the ice. He’s one of those guys on the forecheck where you think you’ve got him and he spins out of nowhere and makes you look stupid.” With Pronger and Niedermayer retired, Doughty can be one of the sage voices for Olympic newbies on the blueline, which may include fellow young guns Kris Letang, P.K. Subban and Alex Pietrangelo. “I see players gravitate to him,” Blake says. “His personality attracts that and look at the settings he’s been in already: winning the Stanley Cup, winning gold at the Olympics and maybe heading to another Olympics.” Defending that gold will be a mission, as will the journey to slide another Cup ring onto his fingers, as Doughty shares the same vampire philosophy of success that most of his NHL peers do: once you win the Cup, all you want to do is get back and win more. So far, the only major hardware to escape his grasp has been the Norris Trophy and though it seems like only a matter of time, Doughty is entering his prime at the same time as a lot of other good perennial candidates. Subban won his first in 2013, while Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson triumphed the year before (and could have usurped Subban for the repeat were it not for an Achilles tendon injury). Weber and former partner Ryan Suter have been bridesmaids, but obviously have the talent to get on top, too. Ask his supporters and they’ll tell you all Doughty needs to do is go out and play his game. “Drew is a very simple kid – what you see is what you get,” O’Donnell says. “He doesn’t overthink things. Whether he makes a good play or a bad play, he moves on. He’s got a short memory.” Once again, it all goes back to his mindset. “On the ice I’m not worried about making a mistake,” Doughty says. “I’m never thinking, ‘If I make this play, what can go wrong?’ I’m thinking, ‘When I make this play, it’s going to happen the proper way and I’m going to make it.’ That helps me. I don’t get down on myself. Of course I’m angry for a little bit, but I get over it pretty quickly. I go back out there and I’ll make that same play again.” Simmonds and Doughty have faced each other just once since Simmonds was dealt to Philadelphia in the Mike Richards trade, but thanks to the new NHL schedule, they’ll get a cross-country home-and-home this year – Feb. 1 in Los Angeles and March 24 in Philadelphia. And while it would be bad form to fire up the ol’ console and have a sleepover now that they’re on opposite teams, the bonds formed early on are still strong – and chirpy. “He does some stupid things,” Simmonds says with a smile. “And he’s a slob.” Doughty’s rebuttal was quick and damning. “I can admit I’m a tiny bit of a slob,” he says. “But I still think he was worse than I was. I must say his room was messier than mine. If we didn’t have our wonderful maid, Gloria, the house would have turned to junk.” There will be no such joking on the ice and if Simmonds should cut across the blueline with the puck, there’s nothing to suggest Doughty would ease up on his friend. After the game, away from the rink, would be an entirely different story.
This feature originally appeared in the October 14 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.