HAMBURG, Germany --
The wait finally is over for Los Angeles Kings
defenseman Drew Doughty
After a protracted contract stalemate with the club, Doughty was forced to spend the majority of training camp on his own, away from the team. He rejoined the club after signing a new seven-year deal late last week -- just in time to fly to Europe for the team's season-opening 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere trip.
Monday marked his first practice with the full complement of Kings players, so Tuesday's morning skate at O2 World Arena here was just the second time he has been in a formal practice setting with the club.
Yet, he will make his preseason debut today when the Kings play the DEL's Hamburg Freezers in the club's final tune-up before opening the regular season Friday in Stockholm against the New York Rangers
in an NHL Premiere game at Globe Arena (1 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN).
"I feel really good," Doughty said to one of the Kings' equipment managers as he hopped off the ice after a brisk, 45-minute skate.
"It's so hard to replicate game situations in practice. Being able to play a game like this before the start of the regular season is huge for me." -- Drew Doughty
Good enough, it seems, that no one has any reservations against playing the franchise cornerstone in a preseason game less than a week after he signed his deal and reported for the tail end of what already was a condensed training camp.
"The legs feel great," Doughty told NHL.com Tuesday. "I worked really hard while I was skating by myself before coming here. I'm so excited to get back in a game. It's been long enough already. I want to play in a game. I'm ready."
Los Angeles coach Terry Murray
likes what he has seen from the few on-ice sessions Doughty has had since reporting. He also believes his star defenseman is ready to accelerate his training by playing in game situations.
"Everything is good with Drew," Murray told NHL.com. "He was skating very hard before he signed his deal and joined the team. He's feeling good and the next step is to just get him in there and feel the forecheck pressure and react to a faster pace coming at you. I had a talk with him yesterday and he feels comfortable. We'll get him in and get a dozen, 15 minutes and go from there."
Murray will be able to limit Doughty's minutes Tuesday because German rules will allow him to dress 22 players, two more than the NHL roster limit. He has chosen to dress eight defensemen to ease Doughty's load.
"That's kind of nice because Doughty is just coming back and this will be his first opportunity to get some ice time with the team," Murray said. "This will allow him to get into the lineup without playing those 27 or 28 minutes, and that is a good thing."
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However many minutes Doughty ends up playing, he is just looking to feel the unique sensations inherent in game play.
"It's so hard to replicate game situations in practice," Doughty said. "Being able to play a game like this before the start of the regular season is huge for me."
Murray said he is eager to see how Doughty handles the intensity of a forecheck performed by a hungry team looking for a season-defining win. He also is looking to see how Doughty processes the information necessary to make the quick transition plays out of the zone that are the foundation of Doughty's game.
For that reason, Murray will be interested in seeing Doughty play mostly in 5-on-5 situations in Tuesday's game. He knows how good Doughty can be on the power play and believes that will come back rapidly because it is the strongest part of the defenseman's game.
"He'll definitely be on the power play, but 5-on-5 play is important," Murray said. "That's the kind of pressure you are going to now get in game situations and you have to read and react to that pace, so 5-on-5 (play) is more important to me than the power play."
Doughty's teammates know exactly what the 21-year-old can do on the ice. They have watched him dominate countless games during his three NHL seasons as ample evidence to his game-breaking abilities. Yet, they still feel a bit of extra security knowing the defenseman will have at least one tune-up game before he is asked to log important minutes in the regular season.
"To get him in a game and get him a feel of the pressure and the forecheck, it's important," captain Dustin Brown
told NHL.com. "To finally have a pretty full lineup (Tuesday) is going to be nice."