Even at the time, it seemed a bit like a backhanded compliment. Drew Doughty, some draft analysts said, was more "NHL ready'' than some of his contemporaries.
A compliment, yes, but it seemed to come with an implication that given time, other 2008 draft prospects might eventually reach a higher ceiling than Doughty.
If so, it's time to reevaluate, and raise Doughty's ceiling.
Last season, as a rookie, Doughty was arguably the Kings' most valuable player. He led them in average ice time, played in all situations and rarely, if ever, looked overmatched in games, even against some of the NHL's top teams.
So what has Doughty done for an encore? So far, he has avoided the "sophomore jinx," raised his offensive game exponentially, become stronger and showed an ability to learn from mistakes. Doughty, who had an assist Monday, has three goals and 12 assists in 18 games, putting him far ahead of his pace last year, when he had 27 points in 81 games.
"He just loves to play hockey," said Kings assistant coach Mark Hardy, who handles the defense and spent 15 seasons as a NHL defenseman. "You see that passion in him. He's not even close to how good he's going to be in the National Hockey League. Everybody talks about the sophomore jinx, and I think he's playing through that. He's such a talented guy, he plays with such passion, and the more I play him, the better he plays."
"For a 19-year-old kid in the NHL, a defenseman, to be playing the way he is, it's just mind-boggling to me how he does it and how he accomplishes it. But he's always the last one off the ice all the time, he's always working on his game and I think that when he really, really steps up and takes hold of things, he's going to be an unbelievable player."
Doughty’s spike in points can be traced to his more aggressive approach at the blue line, which Doughty credits to a new, increased curve in his stick blade that allows him to get more power and elevation behind his shots.
Indeed, several of Doughty’s assists have come off plays like Monday, when his rocket point shot was saved, but the rebound was tucked into the net by Anze Kopitar.
It’s not just about the stick blade though. It’s about the continued evolution in his game.
Take, for instance, the first game of this season. Doughty was awful by all accounts, including his own. He made two bad turnovers that led directly to Phoenix goals and, overall, looked tentative and mistake-prone, much unlike the rookie of a year before.
How did Doughty respond? In the short term, by answering all reporters’ questions and owning up to his shortcomings and, in the longer term, by bouncing back, in the next few games, with a level of play even higher than he showed last season.
"I feel a little more comfortable," Doughty said, "and I guess sometimes that kind of gets me in trouble. That first game, I was maybe a little too comfortable and made a couple bad plays, but since that game, pretty much every game I think I've played pretty well. I think since the first one, I've been getting closer to the player I think I can be.
Continue to part II