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Drew Isn’t Through

by Doug Ward / Los Angeles Kings

A collection of A-list stars shined brightly at last June’s Los Angeles vs. New York Stanley Cup Final. The high-wattage turnout at STAPLES Center and Madison Square Garden included the likes of Channing Tatum, Robert De Niro and Will Farrell. And Jon Hamm and Larry David. And Spike Lee and Michael J. Fox. And on, and on.

But, did anyone’s star shine brighter than Drew Doughty’s?

Doughty was a star among stars, creating opportunities at one end of the ice, shutting down opponents at the other, all while performing on hockey’s biggest stage.

“There are some players who like the spotlight and raise their game in big games,” Kings Vice President, Assistant General Manager Rob Blake said. “Drew is at his best when the spotlight is shining.”

Doughty logged 747:33 minutes of playoff ice time last spring, the most in the postseason since the stat began being tracked in 1997-98. Doughty spent more time in treacherous situations on a frozen surface than an entire season of Ice Road Truckers. Yet in spite of the gaudy numbers, Doughty’s playoff performance was as much about quality as it was quantity. He scored five goals and recorded 18 points in 26 games.

“Drew can control a game,” Blake said. “There are not very many players that can do that, but Drew is one of them.”

After recently turning 24, Doughty has already won two Stanley Cups and has a pair of Olympic gold medals, which puts him in elite company. Doughty has yet to win his first Norris Trophy, but he is routinely compared to players who have earned the prestigious hardware, emblematic of the NHL’s best defenseman. A lot of folks have likened Doughty to Hall of Famer Raymond Bourque.

“That’s not too far off,” said Blake, who played with Bourque in Colorado.

Others mention Chris Pronger when talking about Doughty. Then there’s teammate Anze Kopitar, who said Doughty reminds him of a certain seven-time Norris Trophy winner.

“I’ve been saying this a couple years now,” Kopitar said last spring. “He’s our Nicklas Lidstrom.

It’s a comparison that sits well with Doughty, who grew up in London, Ont., where he was a Kings fan due to the presence of Wayne Gretzky. Doughty’s role model on defense, however, was none other than Lidstrom.

“I really liked Lidstrom,” Doughty said. “He was the best defenseman in the league and he was for many years. If I can have half the career he had, I’ll be satisfied.”

In terms of Stanley Cup wins, Doughty already has had half the career of Lidstrom, who won four Cups over the course of his 20 seasons with Detroit.

“We all know what Lidstrom did in Detroit for many, many years,” Kopitar said. “I think Drew likes the big stage, obviously. He likes big games. He gets very emotional. I guess if you draw a line underneath that, he just brings his game to the next level at in the spring for big games.”

Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland has even mentioned Doughty and Lidstrom in the same breath.

“We were lucky to have him for all those years,” Holland told ESPN.com “Drew Doughty, I was fortunate to be with him on Team Canada in 2010 and 2014 at the Olympics, and he’s in the process of establishing himself. He’s one of the best defensemen in the game, maybe the best defenseman in the game with his ability to transport the puck and join the rush, he plays to win. He’s a special player.”

Beyond an ability to raise their play at the right time, it’s not difficult to spot other similarities between what Lidstrom did and what Doughty is doing. Doughty and Lidstrom play both ends of the ice.

“I love jumping in the play and getting goals,” Doughty said, “but I love shutting down the other team.”

In addition to growing up a fan of the Kings, Gretzky and Lidstrom, Doughty – who represented the club at the 2015 All-Star Game in Ohio -- has always been passionate about soccer. He follows Chelsea FC closely, and his sister, Chelsea, who plays soccer at Niagara University, was named after the team. His parents, Paul and Connie, both played the sport while growing up in England and Portugal, respectively, and coming of age in a soccer family left an impression on Drew.

“Drew was born early enough that he got to see me play soccer,” Paul Doughty said. “I think he picked up on playing defense from watching. You can change position and take away the possibility of a pass and Drew picked up on that.”

Not surprisingly, when Drew began playing hockey, he was always conscientious defensively.

“He started out in hockey as a center, and he was very defensive minded for a forward,” Paul said.

But hockey and soccer have both always been about more than X’s and O’s to Drew.

“With Drew, it’s always been about the love and enjoyment of the game,” his father said. “He has always loved playing.”

Drew played high-level youth soccer in Canada until the age of 15. He was a goalkeeper and he agrees with his father that experience on the pitch can be of service on the ice.

“One thing I have always had for me is an ability to read situations,” Doughty said. “When I was in net, I was able to read little things in front of me and react before they happened. That is one of my strengths in hockey as well. In any other sport that I play, I use my mind to try and read things before they happen. I think I learned a lot of that from playing goalie in soccer. You can see things develop.”

To gauge Doughty’s own development, take a look at his Time on Ice numbers. He averaged 23:50 minutes per game as a rookie in 2008-09, a number that rose to a remarkable 28:45 per game in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The ice time numbers seem to impress others more than they do Doughty himself. He said he has always carried a large load, and always longed to be in the game at crucial moments. During a Cup run, every shift seems to fall into that category.

“In Juniors, I was always playing up to 35 minutes a night,” Doughty said. “Here, I’m playing a little bit less, but it’s at a much higher level, so it’s still about the same thing.”

In the annals of Kings history, Doughty could be viewed as the second coming of Rob Blake, with a touch of Larry Murphy thrown in for good measure. He has the ability to change the tenor of a game with a bone-rattling hit or a big shot, the way Blake often did, and he can also make a slick play using finesse, the way Murphy did.

Given his expansive skill set, Kings Head Coach Darryl Sutter has given Doughty freedom to jump into the play.

“Darryl lets me play, no matter what the circumstances are,” Doughty said. “He just lets me go out there and do my thing. I try to jump in the offense, put points up.”

Offense, of course, is generally viewed as a secondary attribute when your job title as the word “defense” in it, and Doughty is not afraid to play with an edge. 

“I don’t mind playing a physical game,” Doughty said. “Having a physical element to your game is always important. Forwards don’t like playing against tough physical defenseman and it’s annoying getting hit all the time so I try to do that as much as I can.”

For all his success, Doughty said some of the best lessons he has learned have come the hard way.

“I think I’ve always had the composure and the mind for the game,” he said, “but I’ve made my share of mistakes, too. I’ve made a lot of errors passing and positionally, and I’ve learned from those.”

All those minutes logged en route to the Cup were made possible by a combination of conditioning and desire.

“It’s a little bit of both conditioning and desire, with desire on the high end,” Blake said. “Drew wants to be on the ice and you can trust him.”

Sutter, who has given Doughty increased ice time and responsibility since taking over behind the bench during the 2011-12 season, believes Doughty is still improving.

“Plays a little more probably, for sure,” Sutter said last spring, assessing Doughty’s development. “Now he kills penalties. Plays against top players a lot. He’s a young player. I think when you do all the analytics on athletes, he’s a long ways form being as good as he’s going to be just because of his age. You learn the league better. You learn players on the other teams better. Nuances of star players. You learn how to handle your practice habits, nutrition, what you do on game days. All that stuff.”
Blake, the Kings’ only Norris Trophy winner, agrees that Doughty has not yet reached his ceiling and said there is reason to believe his best years may be yet to come.
“He’s young enough to learn about different aspects of the game and get even better,” Blake said.
Doughty’s partner on defense, Jake Muzzin, said being paired Doughty helped him take his game to new heights. Muzzin said Doughty has been both an inspirational and calming presence.
“He’s got so much skill,” Muzzin said. “I think a lot of that is that he wants to win. All that good stuff rubs off on me, but for the most part we’re just two guys who want to win and are having fun.”
Although Doughty’s passion can cause him to lose his temper on occasion, it rarely causes him to make a foolish play. Doughty said his ability to have fun, maintain his composure, and be at his best in big games trickles down from the team’s veteran leadership.
“Our leaders, they’re the ones that lead the way,” Doughty said. “They start having that composure. When they’re showing that, I think the younger guys just kind of do the same thing.  They see the guys that have been successful in this league so far, they see the things they’re doing -- they just try to do the exact same things.”

Or, they could just watch Doughty and do the exact same things he does.
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