|Drew Doughty is playing like a seasoned pro in his second year.
said it was during his first NHL game last season that the enormity of where he was hit him.
Here he was, an 18-year-old kid, just months out of playing with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League, sharing the ice with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Rob Blake and the rest of the San Jose Sharks.
"You go from the OHL to exhibition games and that's a huge jump," Doughty told NHL.com. "And you go from exhibition games to regular-season games and that's an even bigger jump. My first game I struggled a little bit, I was in awe of how fast the game was and I was just lost out there."
It didn't take him long to find his way, however, as Doughty played 81 games, averaged a team- and rookie-leading 23:49 of ice time per game, had 27 points and emerged as a No. 1 defenseman.
The second pick of the 2008 Entry Draft, Doughty will face the player selected immediately after him, Atlanta Thrashers defenseman Zach Bogosian -- another player who has the look of a cornerstone blueliner -- Friday in Atlanta (7:30 p.m. ET, GCL).
"Growing up it was my dream to make the NHL, but you never think it's going to come true," said Doughty. "You want it to happen but you know how tough it is. Making it happen at such a young age -- I was 18 for half the year last year. It's been pretty unbelievable."
His strong play last season was rewarded this summer, when he was one of 46 players invited to Calgary for Canada's Olympic Evaluation Camp. Doughty was the youngest player at the camp and the only player from the '08 draft class invited.
"Being 19 years old and getting an invite to that is pretty breathtaking," said Doughty. "I was so surprised. I never expected it, ever. Getting invited and playing with those guys at that camp, there were so many good players out there. It was mistake-free hockey. It was awesome to be part of that.
"It was the fastest-pace game of hockey I'd every played in my life. It was easier but harder at the same time. Easier because your guys are always in the right spots and they're always making tape-to-tape passes. But it's harder because the other team is doing the same thing coming down on you as a defenseman."
While Doughty admitted to being in awe of some of his country's best players, some of those players certainly noticed him.
"He's a phenomenal young stud, if you want to call him that," Kings teammate Ryan Smyth told NHL.com. "He's excellent and it's great to have him on our team. His chances (for the Olympics) are certainly as good as anybody's."
Smyth, who has earned the nickname "Captain Canada" for all his international experience, certainly knows what the Olympic experience will be like. He was asked if Doughty looked overwhelmed.
"No, not at all," he said. "He belonged there."
Doughty said he's keeping all his Olympic hopes in the back of his mind for now.
"It would mean the world (to make the team), he said. "Being on an Olympic team is a dream, too. Winning a gold medal, in Canada, it would be crazy, unbelievable. I know it's kind of a long shot for me, but it's not like it can't happen. From what the coaching staff and GM of the team say, they want the guys that can play, they don't just want veteran presence. There's not really much I can do, just have to play my best every game. I keep it in the back of my head, don't want to think about it too much and put pressure on myself. Just want to play good for the Kings.
"As long as I'm playing well its out of my hands."
So far he's doing just fine. He's tied for fourth among defensemen with 15 points in 19 games, and he has a plus-7 rating, after finishing last season minus-17. He also leads the team in ice time at 23:32 per game.
"I'm a lot more comfortable," said Doughty. "Last year I went in thinking, I really want to make this team but I probably won't, its going to be tough. Coming in this year, not that I had a locked-up spot on the team or anything like that, but it's more likely I was going to make the team. I came in more comfortable in the (locker) room, you know all the guys, you have a lot more fun. You've still got to play your best and work hard to make the team, but it's more fun."
It's even better to be having that fun for the Kings, Doughty's favorite team growing up in London, Ont.
"LA was pretty good when I was growing up, they had Gretzky so they were pretty good," he said. "LA kind of slanted off the map a little bit, they haven't made the playoffs for so long. Being part of this rebuilding is pretty awesome. I think we have the team to do it this year. I think we're going to make the playoffs if we continue to do the things we're doing."Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Staff Writer