|Guelph Storm defenseman Drew Doughty is projected to be the top rated blueliner in the upcoming 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
As a kid, Doughty loved to watch Wayne Gretzky and naturally dreamed about making his impact in the NHL as a center, just like his hero. But when he started his minor bantam year with the London Junior Knights, his team was short on defensemen. His coach, Brad Ostrom, asked Doughty to drop back to the blue line to help fill the void.
Doughty flourished in his new role and used his offensive instincts to become a threat from the back end. Now in his third season with the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey League, it looks like that decision has paid off in spades. Doughty is already the top rated defenseman for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft this summer and many believe he could be the top pick overall.
He is a solid performer in every area of the ice, but scouts love Doughty’s offensive instincts and he believes that they come from his minor hockey days as a forward.
“I think it’s helped me a lot,” said Doughty, who joined Marc Staal on the OHL’s first all-star team last season. “Playing forward helped me become more skilled offensively and I kind of used that to become more of an offensive defenseman.”
Doughty also had help in developing his game in his own end. During his first two seasons in Guelph, he was partnered with captain Ryan Parent, one of the league’s best defensive defensemen and a two-time gold medal winner with Canada’s junior team.
Parent, a former first round pick of the Nashville Predators who was part of the trade with the Philadelphia Flyers for Peter Forsberg in February, mentored Doughty on how to make a successful transition from minor hockey to the OHL and helped him with nearly every aspect of his game.
“He was a treat to watch and having him as my D partner was even better,” said Doughty, an OHL all-rookie team member in 2005-06. “He’s just awesome at every single aspect of the game. Whether it was his skating or just his positioning in his own zone or one-on-ones, anything. I just would watch him and that’s how I would learn everything just by watching him. He’s a great guy to watch and he’s a great guy off the ice too. He’s a great leader.”
In last season’s OHL Coaches Poll, Doughty was named the Western Conference’s top offensive defenseman, while Parent was named top defensive defenseman.
“I think they complemented each other on the ice and off the ice as well because of their attitudes,” said Storm coach/GM Dave Barr. “They both love to play the game of hockey. They have fun playing the game of hockey. It’s not about playing the game to become a professional. It’s a lot of fun for them and that should be the end result for both of them.”
Doughty joins Sarnia Sting center Steven Stamkos as the most talked about prospects for what is shaping up to be a deep draft class. Alex Pietrangelo of the Niagara IceDogs is being touted as a Chris Pronger in the making and Michael Del Zotto of the Oshawa Generals is another blue chip prospect who has already been identified as an early pick.
|"I think as far as skills and smarts are concerned, he's right there." -- Guelph Storm head coach/GM Dave Barr
“There are a lot of great D men out there for this draft,” said Doughty. “I wouldn’t say that it worries me, but it gives me that extra push – especially when Pietrangelo and Del Zotto are putting up the points that they put up in their rookie years. I’m pretty good buddies with both of them, but even though we’re good buddies off the ice, on the ice we’re going to be working hard to get our draft stock even higher. Knowing that they are there is going to push me a little bit more.”
Despite his success so far in the OHL, Doughty appreciates that he still has some work to do to get his game ready for the NHL level. He loves to play a physical style – especially in his own end – and needs to add some power to be able to carry that to the NHL level.
“One thing I know I have to improve on is my strength, just getting stronger,” said Doughty, the fifth-overall pick in the 2005 OHL draft. “The guys at the next level are just that much stronger than the guys here. I have to adjust to the speed – everything there is just that much quicker. I always want to improve my defensive game and I want to just keep on improving on that and every other aspect of my game.”
If Doughty is one of the top two or three players selected in June, he will likely get a good chance to make his NHL team next year. His coach believes that Doughty is the defenseman most ready to make the jump.
“I think as far as skills and smarts are concerned, he’s right there,” said Barr, who coached many of Canada’s top draft prospects at the Under-18 championships in August. “I think the thing that a lot of younger players realize as they turn pro and play their first years professionally is the commitment it takes day in and day out to be a good pro - the conditioning and the mental preparation. There is a maturation process for guys if they aren’t prepared for it.”
Barr said that maturity isn’t an issue with Doughty and he doesn’t expect the pressure of his draft year to have any impact on his young star.
“It’s a non-issue with Drew,” said Barr, who played 16 professional seasons, including 614 games in the NHL. “I don’t know how much he thinks about it at all. He just enjoys playing the game and he goes to play. He doesn’t play it to show the scouts that he’s a good player. He plays to help his team win. He uses his skills to help the team.”