EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter was talking to reporters after the morning skate March 29 when Drew Doughty walked past the scrum.
Dressed in shorts, t-shirt and a cap turned backward, the smiling Doughty turned to Sutter just before he ducked out the door.
"See you tomorrow!" Doughty said.
"See you tonight," Sutter said.
Doughty was joking, of course. But he could have shown up for that night's game, played more than 25 minutes and never had to consult with Sutter. Doughty is a Sutter favorite and needs little coaching in this, perhaps the finest all-around season of his young career.
That's saying something for a player whose resume already includes a Stanley Cup title and two Olympic gold medals. Doughty turned 24 in December and begins a quest for a second Cup ring when the Kings play the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference First Round. There is also a possible trip to the NHL Awards show in June.
"He's going to win the Norris [Trophy] one year, I'm sure," Anaheim Ducks captain and Canadian Olympic teammate Ryan Getzlaf said. "There's a lot of good d-men in this League and he probably could have won it already if some other guys hadn't done what they've done."
What Doughty has done this season is probably enough to make him a finalist, even if he doesn't have flashy offensive numbers. A notable statistic is his 25:43 average ice time per game, more than three minutes more than the next closest King. Doughty averaged 2:35 shorthanded, the most since his rookie season, largely because the Kings were among the most penalized teams in the NHL.
He also recorded a career-high 180 hits, and his 91 blocked shots were his most since 2010-11.
Doughty did so while partnered with the less experienced Jake Muzzin and was relied upon more as a safety valve. Veteran Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell said Doughty actually took his biggest strides in this area last season because he was playing a different role after Los Angeles lost Mitchell and Matt Greene to injury.
"The years before, I always had a d-partner who was always there to help me – I had [Rob] Scuderi and [Sean] O'Donnell," Doughty said. "It was kind of them being the defensive guy and me trying to create the offense and kind of learning how to play defense at that time. Last year, we had so many injuries and guys out that I had to step up to the plate and become a better player.
"Being able to play with some of these great defensemen so far – Willie Mitchell, Scuderi, O'Donnell … I just watch them and it's helped me so much. I take huge pride in playing very well defensively. [I also have a] great D coach in John Stevens, who has helped me a ton as well. Last year was a huge stepping stone. I think this year has been my best year coming from both ends."
While Doughty's defensive education came via O'Donnell, Scuderi and Mitchell, his offensive instincts were already established and on full display in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, when he was partnered with Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators on Canada's top power-play unit and named to the all-tournament team.
Weber said Doughty opened up a lot of ice in both Olympics. It's difficult to comprehend that Doughty could play in at least two more Winter Games.
"Obviously a guy that's done a lot at such a young age; to be that young, he's just going to keep getting better and better," Weber said. "He's got that skill where he can do special things with the puck and read the play."
Doughty's aforementioned youthful, goofy personality was also evident in a "NHL Revealed" episode when he overslept and was a no-show for breakfast with his father, Paul, in Sochi. Weber remembers seeing that side of Doughty during the 2009 World Championships.
"He likes to joke around and play around and he's a fun guy to be around," Weber said. "He's not shy to catch up on sleep. But when he comes, he comes to play."
From a media standpoint, Doughty is by far the loosest cannon in the Kings' dressing room. Last season, after a loss to Anaheim, he incensed Ducks fans after he told reporters the Kings were the better team that night. There's no doubting his fervor.
"He has that enthusiasm for the game that's infectious on a hockey team," Mitchell said. "Everyone looks at it as 'He doesn't care.' But he's got as much passion, or more passion, than 99 percent of our team. I hate to admit that. You know what I mean? He does. That's what makes him great. It's infectious on a bunch. You've seen that. The bigger the game, the better he plays, because he has that passion. He cares, and he just likes that environment."
Doughty acknowledges he'd be more of a Norris front-runner if he had better offensive numbers, but that won't happen with the Kings.
"If I played in the East, in general, I'd have another 20 points," he said. "They have awards for the offensive forward and best defensive forward. Maybe they need to make a best defensive d-man and offensive d-man."
Doughty, surprisingly, has been a Norris finalist once in his career, a third-place finish in 2009-10. Most players downplay individual awards. Doughty isn't most players.
"Of course I want to win that award," Doughty said. "It's one of my goals every single season. It's [typically] given out to the guy who leads the League in points as a defenseman. It's going to be tough for me to win. If I don't win it, I don't care. I'll take another Stanley Cup over a Norris any day. That's all I care about is playing well on this team, leading them on the back end and try and win another Cup."