LOS ANGELES --
Upon meeting new teammate Drew Doughty
after signing with the Los Angeles Kings
, defenseman Willie Mitchell
learned that the 20-year-old Norris Trophy nominee knew the meaning of the word respect.
"The first day, (Doughty) came in, and (said), 'Willie, you can take my number.'"
Mitchell politely declined despite having worn No. 8 in Vancouver during four of his nine NHL seasons.
"No, no, you had too good a year last year, you've got to keep rocking that thing," Mitchell said, not wanting to mess with Doughty's mojo.
"He's a veteran guy in the League," said Doughty, noting that the offer was borne of respect, not obligation.
Mitchell paired with Doughty during pre-camp workouts, and it's possible that the two will form a tandem. He says a chance to be part of the Doughty's rise to stardom made a difference in his decision to come to Los Angeles.
"He's himself. He's an outstanding hockey player – a guy that has great skill and is not afraid to make some plays as he carries the puck up the ice. He plays hard defensively, too."
-- Ryan Smyth
"That was intriguing coming down here," said Mitchell, one of the NHL's better stay-at-home defenders. "To play with a player like that -- how I play the game, it seems like (we) would complement each other really well."
The Kings haven't produced a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman since the 1988 draft, when they chose Rob Blake
in the fourth round (No. 70). Sure, the club drafted some notable ones since then, including Lubomir Visnovsky
, Andreas Lilja
, Kimmo Timonen
, Alexei Zhitnik
, Darryl Sydor
, Joe Corvo
and Denis Grebeshkov
. But none earned a comparison with the now-retired Blake until Doughty was drafted 20 years later.
For much of his career, Blake was a regular presence on the list of top-scoring defensemen, and he retired this summer ranked 10th on the NHL's all-time goals list for defensemen with 240. Doughty stands four inches shorter than Blake, but he's solid, with a physical bite (157 hits in 2009-10) to go with his scoring prowess. With 16 goals and 59 points last season, Doughty finished third in scoring by a defenseman, trailing only fellow Norris nominee Mike Green
and winner Duncan Keith
However, veteran forward Ryan Smyth
says Doughty is one of a kind, doesn't remind him of any defenseman he's faced during his career and "has great potential" to go from Norris finalist to winner.
"He's himself," Smyth told NHL.com. "He's an outstanding hockey player – a guy that has great skill and is not afraid to make some plays as he carries the puck up the ice. He plays hard defensively, too."
After a Calder nomination and inclusion on the NHL All-Rookie Team in 2008-09, Doughty took his game to the next level last season.
In 2009-10, Doughty assumed No. 1 status among Kings defensemen, playing in all situations and leading the team average in time on ice (24:58). Doughty's upward trajectory was also highlighted by his second-place finishes in key team categories: points (59), plus/minus (plus-20) and game-winning goals (5). His power-play prowess reached new heights – he had 22 assists, good for 15th overall in the League. Nine goals with the man advantage were good for third on the club.
An Olympic gold medal and a famous photo skating with the Canadian flag were highlights, but what most established Doughty as a young star was his stellar performance in his first trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Against Vancouver, Doughty led the Kings in ice time (27:25) and blocked shots (12). He also tied for the team lead in goals (3) and points (7). Two of his assists were on game-winning goals, and he tied Kings playoff records with 3 assists and 4 points in Game 3.
At such an early age, how can he top himself?
"Even though it's going to be tough to get the same year, I'm thinking I can do it," Doughty said. "(I need to) forget last season a little bit. Just try to do the same things I did last season."
Earlier in his career, one of the few knocks by critics was related to Doughty's conditioning. The London, Ont., native says he's taken his workout regimen to a new level.
"I'm getting a little older and growing out of my teenage body (and) getting a lot stronger in the gym and really working hard," Doughty said.
"Last year I really improved my shot. This summer I was trying to work on everything. Getting quicker, more mobile and just working on my hands and shot again. There really isn't one thing that you can work on in the summer position-wise, so that's why you have your camp and you do it there."
With his entry-level deal expiring next June, a big payday is likely. If Keith's long-term, big-bucks deal with the Blackhawks is any indication of what Doughty will receive from the Kings, it could be a task just for the youngster to focus.
"I just put that in the back of my head," Doughty insists. "They don't have to sign me for almost a year, so I'm not in any rush to sign. I obviously would love to stay here. I love the city of LA, and the group of guys we have. I don't really have any plans of ever moving out of here."
Kings captain Dustin Brown
says Doughty's emerging stardom is good for business.
"From a media or a marketing standpoint it always helps -- especially on the West Coast -- to have guys like 'Dewey' to grow the game as a whole," he said. "To have a player that's quite possibly one of the best defensemen in the League is great for the organization."