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Ducks vs. Kings

Ducks' Fowler follows path set by Kings' Doughty

Wednesday, 05.07.2014 / 7:36 PM / Ducks vs. Kings - 2014 SCP Second Round

By Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Ducks' Fowler follows path set by Kings' Doughty
Like Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty four years before him, the experience with the United States team in Russia for Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks could help springboard him into the group of elite defensemen in the NHL.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Here's a quick story: A young defenseman from a Southern California-based NHL team earns a somewhat surprising selection to his country's Olympic team. After he competes in the tournament and plays well, it bolsters his belief in himself and helps the player, already on the path to stardom, be even better.

So is this tale about someone from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics or the 2014 Sochi Olympics?

It's a trick question, of course. The answer is both. Like Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty four years before him, the experience with the United States team in Russia for Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks could help springboard him into the group of elite defensemen in the NHL. He might have been on that trajectory anyway.

"It was awesome. Obviously it wasn't the final result we were looking for (the U.S. did not medal), but for me getting that experience at such a young age was pretty crucial," Fowler said. "I looked back at a lot of those things that happened. Just being able to prove myself that I can play against the best competition at the highest level in the world, that was a pretty special thing for me. I've been able to kind of carry that with me. Just looking back and thinking through some things that I went through at that level definitely help me now."

Fowler went to Sochi as the second-youngest defenseman on a green group. He ended up averaging the fifth-most minutes but earned his most ice time in the three most important games, against Russia, Canada and Finland.

Doughty had a similar experience four years prior when he was the youngest member of a star-studded Canada defense in Vancouver. He played fewer than 16 minutes in three of the first four games, but finished with an average of more than 18 because of his expanded role against the United States in the preliminary round and once the elimination games began. Canada won the gold medal, and repeated with Doughty on the team in 2014.

"That was kind of the first big thing in my NHL career was being named to that [2010] team," Doughty said. "Even though I was named to it, I still didn't feel like really belonged. I was just looking up to all these guys not too long ago. It was kind of a weird feeling. I started playing a lot more in those Olympics and I felt better about myself and the year kind of took off from there. I was up for the Norris [Trophy], then I obviously felt I belonged after that."

If Fowler can follow a similar route to Doughty, Ducks fans should be plenty excited. Doughty has developed into one of the premier defensemen in the sport.

He is not a Norris finalist this season, but it is one of the deepest fields for the award in League history, and finishing in the top 10 of the voting will be an achievement for most of the defensemen on the list.

Doughty has been a dominant player for the Kings, just as he was for Canada in helping his country to a second consecutive gold medal. Just as he was when Los Angeles rolled to the Stanley Cup in 2012. Doughty's reputation as a star when the stakes are highest is well-earned.

He's the lynchpin for everything the Kings do. Los Angeles is one of the best puck-possession teams in the League and one of the toughest teams to score against.

Doughty has become the prototypical franchise defenseman in this era. Teams would love to have a Zdeno Chara or a Shea Weber, but a Doughty and a Duncan Keith, with their ability to play positionally sound defense and skate or pass the puck out of danger, are just as valuable.

"His hockey IQ is unbelievable, his skill set, his compete level, his attitude, it is all right up there with the best in the world," said Jake Muzzin, Doughty's defense partner. "Maybe he doesn't get the coverage some of those other guys get, or maybe he doesn't have as many points because we play a little more defensive style of hockey. He's right up there with the big guys."

Doughty hasn't been a Norris finalist since 2010, but he could be again in the future. He and Muzzin were the best puck-possession pair in the NHL this season; the Kings had 58.5 percent of the shot attempts when Doughty was on the ice at even strength, despite facing the toughest competition among their defensemen.

Los Angeles has not been a dominant possession team the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Part of it was facing another team that's great at it in the first round, the San Jose Sharks. Part of it is the Kings haven't played at a peak level in two games against the Ducks, and Anaheim has played well.

That changes when Doughty is on the ice, as the Sharks and Ducks found out. Forward Anze Kopitar has been fantastic for the Kings and leads the playoffs with 14 points. He might not be the Kings' best candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy, because Doughty has been every bit as dominant.

With Kopitar, Doughty and goaltender Jonathan Quick, the Kings have had the best player at each position in their two series.

"Without a doubt, I'm 10 times the player I was back then [in 2010]," Doughty, 24 years old, said. "That year I had my most point total (59). I still I'm way better offensively than I was back then. Back then, our team wasn't as good, but we scored more goals and our power play was better. That was the reason I got more points. I wouldn't trade that year in for any of the years I've had after that. I feel I've improved as a player. I've been a better leader for the team. I've played a lot better. I make a difference in every game."

Fowler had a great rookie season, with 10 goals and 40 points in 76 games. His next two seasons did not go as well, and critics focused on his plus-minus rating.

Toward the end of last season, Fowler returned from a concussion and started to find some chemistry with Ben Lovejoy. Things began to click, and by this time last season the player who looked like he might be a future franchise defenseman as a teenager was back.

"It's not easy coming into this League as a young defenseman," Fowler said. "There's a lot of things you have to learn and it doesn't happen easily. There was a lot of negative stats that can be thrown your way and things can go south in a hurry. My biggest thing was I had a lot of support around me and the coaching staff, when Randy [Carlyle] was here, and now that Bruce [Boudreau] is here, they've believed in me and know I can do it. That has helped me a lot as a player."

Fowler and Lovejoy became Boudreau's go-to pairing when the Ducks faced a speedy forward line. Lovejoy said this revelation happened near the end of last season when Anaheim played Edmonton and the pair was matched against the Oilers' young forwards.

Last season, Boudreau had veterans Francois Beauchemin and Sheldon Souray to fall back on as his most trusted defensemen. Souray has not played this year because of a wrist injury, and Beauchemin missed almost a month starting in late-November with an upper-body injury.

Fowler and Lovejoy became the Ducks' top defense pairing, and Fowler flourished.

"I think we're not traditional shutdown, big, physical D-men. I think that we do our best to frustrate other teams by just being in position," Lovejoy said. "One of the things that I've been so impressed with Cam this year is, most young defensemen who their whole careers have been judged by how many points they've put up will find ways to cheat for offense. I can't count on one hand how many times he's done that this year.

"From the first days of training camp going against [Ryan] Getzlaf, [Corey] Perry and [Dustin] Penner, we've had one goal in mind, and that is to be really good defensively. We know that we're playing against some talented players who are going to get their chances. We're going to do our best to use our feet and skate into position and be hard to play against."

Like Doughty, Fowler's hockey-card statistics (six goals, 36 points) are not what has made him an elite defenseman. He has faced the toughest competition for the Ducks, and along with Lovejoy seen more starts in the defensive zone than the other end.

Fowler's puck-possession numbers are not on Doughty's level, but neither are the Ducks' in comparison to the Kings'.

"I think he's improved a tremendous amount," Boudreau said of Fowler. "Just on maturity alone. Jay Leach once told me it takes a defenseman 300 games in the NHL to learn how to play his position. He came up as an 18-year-old that was an offensive player in junior and he had to learn to play the position. It took him a couple years, but I think this year was a great stride for him. He's still only 22. He's going to get a lot better as he goes, but he's learned to play both ends of the ice in the last couple years and I think this year especially."

Kopitar versus Getzlaf was considered the marquee matchup before this series began and it hasn't disappointed. For much of the first two games, not only were their lines matched, but Doughty and Muzzin were on the ice along with Fowler and Lovejoy.

At times, it looked like the old Soviet Union model of five-man units, and it was the best the teams have to offer going head-to-head. Boudreau tried to avoid it at times in Game 2, but expect Kings coach Darryl Sutter to make it happen again a lot in Game 3 on Thursday at Staples Center (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS).

Los Angeles leads the best-of-7 series 2-0.

"I think me and Ben have had the responsibility of playing against top lines this year, and we've been able to do a good job and play well together," Fowler said. "Those guys are a handful. I think we can do a little better job on them. A lot of times we match up with guys who have a lot of speed and play off the rush, but those guys, especially Kopitar, is such a big body and a tough guy to handle.

"I've worked hard. I've done my best to become the most complete defenseman I can be. I watch video and talk to my defensive coaches. There's a lot that goes into it. I'm happy with my progression."

Quote of the Day

I feel that responsibility, I've felt it for the last two years. We core guys get a lot of minutes, we get a lot of opportunity out there. Our teammates, the organization and fans look to us to be the guys to put the puck in the net and to create momentum out there.

— Jordan Eberle on taking his game and the Edmonton Oilers to the next level