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Doughty says he's better than ever for Kings

All-star defenseman adding dimensions to game

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / NHL.com Staff Writer

CALGARY -- Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty has an endearing way of saying precisely what is on his mind.

Self-assessment included.

Doughty was in a particularly reflective mood last week before the Kings went on their five-day break, which ends Saturday when they host the Anaheim Ducks (10:30 p.m. ET; FS-W, PRIME, NHL.TV).  

"I know it seems like I say this almost every year and that I'm getting better and I'm playing my best hockey," Doughty said. "But truly, this year, I am playing my best hockey."

That's a high standard.

 

[RELATED: 2018 All-Star Game rosters unveiled | Doughty leads Norris Trophy race at midseason]

 

Doughty, 28, has won the Stanley Cup twice with the Kings, in 2012 and 2014, and two Olympic gold medals with Canada in 2010 and 2014, all before he turned 25.

"He's been a really good player for a long time," Kings coach John Stevens said. "He was a really good player when I got here. I think he's playing as mature a game now as he ever has."

There is plenty of evidence to support Doughty's contention about his game. Doughty, named to his fourth NHL All-Star Game on Wednesday, has 30 points (seven goals, 23 assists) in 42 games and is ahead of his pace from 2015-16, when he had 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists) after 42 games and won the Norris Trophy as the League's top defenseman.

His Kings-leading plus-21 rating is tied for the second-best among NHL defensemen with Anton Stralman of the Tampa Bay Lightning (they trail Stralman's teammate Victor Hedman, who is plus-24). Doughty has four game-winning goals, tied with center Anze Kopitar for the most on Los Angeles. Lightning rookie Mikhail Sergachev is the only defenseman with more (five).

"I know my points are coming, but that's not even the best part of my game," said Doughty, who is in his 10th NHL season. "My defensive game's gotten better, my leadership got better. I'm controlling the game more. So I feel really good about my game right now, but I've still got room for improvement and want to keep getting better." 

Stevens also has noticed Doughty's evolution. Stevens, who was promoted on April 23 to take over for Darryl Sutter, has been on the Kings coaching staff since the 2010-11 season. 

"The biggest change in his game for me has probably been leadership," Stevens said. "He's taken a really active role. Sometimes guys change a little bit where they're a little more outspoken in the [dressing] room and it's uncomfortable for them.

"But I think Drew, in the past, was maybe a little respectful to people that were here. We have some veteran [defensemen] that have moved on, like [Robyn] Regehr and [Rob] Scuderi and [Matt] Greene."

Video: OTT@LAK: Doughty fires OT winner past Condon

Doughty won't be hiding his emotions on the ice or on the bench anytime soon, but he is still learning, still trying to improve in that area.

"I would like to fix when I lose it on the refs," he said, smiling. "But I've been a lot better at that, 100 percent. The guys on the team, sometimes they tell me, 'Drew, settle down.' But I think they like how competitive I am. They feed off of it a little bit. They get some good laughs out of it sometimes, too."

Stevens said that the increased leadership responsibilities have not been a burden.

"If anything, it's only enhanced his play," Stevens said. "He still takes great pride in defending. He can control the game because he has the puck a lot. He's really been a big proponent of our philosophy of trying to play faster in the neutral zone."

The prospect of making those changes appealed to Doughty and defenseman Alec Martinez when they had conversations with Stevens in the offseason. The Kings went 8-1-1 in their first 10 games and were 11-2-2 after a 4-3 win at the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 7. They are 24-13-5 and in second place in the Pacific Division, seven points behind the Vegas Golden Knights.

"We always had the green light to join [the rush], but I guess there is just a little bit more emphasis on it now," Martinez said. "The style of play in the West has kind of held true to what it was in the past. But I think it's maybe adapted a little bit or absorbed some of the Eastern Conference style of play where a lot of the successful teams have generated a lot off the rush.

"That was one thing we wanted to do -- keep our puck possession game and grind at teams down low. But [Doughty] is always jumping up there and he's generated a lot of offensive opportunities off the rush."

It has all added up to the Kings having a strong season after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2016-17, and Doughty being a serious contender to win another Norris Trophy. 

"I don't think there's ever a bad time to mention the Norris in the conversation about Doughty," Martinez said.

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