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Doughty's play gives Kings no easy answer

by Dan Rosen
Drew Doughty is still living in the Residence Inn by the airport in El Segundo, Calif. He's conveniently close enough both the Los Angeles Kings' practice facility and to a plane at LAX that could take him back to the Ontario Hockey League.

If he continues on his current path, the 18-year-old defenseman may want to hire a realtor to find him a posh Hollywood pad because he won't be leaving Southern California anytime soon -- except for Kings' road trips.

"Coming into training camp I knew I had a chance (to make the team), but it would be difficult," Doughty told "I did everything I could. I worked as hard as I could and got into those exhibition games and I thought I played well. I worked hard to earn this position. Now I'm going to have to work even harder to keep it."

Entering tonight's game against Carolina, Doughty is averaging 19:09 of ice time. That's seventh on the team and fourth among L.A.'s defensemen, but it's that low only because he didn't play the third period Tuesday due to flu-like symptoms.

Doughty played a team-high 23:56 in Sunday's 1-0 loss to San Jose. He was not on the ice for Lukas Kaspar's goal 9:56 into the second period and still has an even rating.

"The first game I was a little nervous, maybe I didn't have my best game, but they showed faith in me and let me play a lot the next game," Doughty said. "I stepped up. I thought I played a fairly good game. It's great to know they have that confidence in me."

Playing a lot of minutes isn't new to Doughty, who played a ton of them with the Guelph Storm last season, when for the second straight year he was voted the OHL's best offensive-defenseman by the league's coaches.

Doughty had 50 points, including 9 power-play goals.

"I'm a little surprised (to be playing so much in L.A.), but I was used to it playing last year in Guelph and it's great," he said. "I play better when I play more minutes."

Doughty still has to pinch himself when he's referred to as a professional athlete. A year ago today, he was Guelph's top defensemen and was hoping to earn a spot on Canada's National Junior Team. Doughty not only did that, he helped the Canadians win their fourth straight World Juniors gold and in the process was named the tournament's top defenseman with 4 assists in 7 games.

Doughty wound up as the third-ranked North American draft-eligible player by NHL Central Scouting. He was chosen second by the Kings, his favorite team.

"Even after getting picked, I knew I had so much more to accomplish," Doughty said. "The next step was putting on the jersey and being a part of the team."

As hopeful as he was, Doughty never expected his dream to come true so soon.

"Growing up it was always my dream to play in the NHL and I worked as hard as I could to get here. To be here at 18, I definitely never thought that would happen. It's still overwhelming."
-- Drew Doughty

"No, not at all," Doughty said candidly. "Growing up it was always my dream to play in the NHL and I worked as hard as I could to get here. To be here at 18, I definitely never thought that would happen. It's still overwhelming."

Should Doughty play the first 9 games -- the Kings have until the end of the month to decide his immediate fate -- will he stay in Los Angeles and start the clock on his three-year entry level contract or go back for another year of development in Guelph?
His defensive partner, 37-year-old Sean O'Donnell, doesn't think the second option is realistic anymore.

"When you're second overall you obviously have a lot of physical ability, but the thing that separates him is maturity," O'Donnell told "He gets the game. He's a level-headed kid. There are certain plays that took me a while to learn that he gets automatically. I see no reason why he shouldn't start his NHL career now."

Even though his ice time would suggest that's exactly what he's doing, Doughty isn't making any assumptions about his future beyond this month.

"They can send me back, but I don't know," Doughty said. "If I am playing that many minutes and I continue to play well, there should be no reason for them to send me back, but you just never know."

Should he stay - and it's hard to argue he won't - Doughty steadfastly said his attitude won't change. He wakes up every morning thinking he has to fight for a roster spot that day, and he plans to keep that mindset even when he can comfortably call himself an NHL player.

"In the NHL, there are guys battling for positions all the time," Doughty said. "There are young guys stepping in for older guys and vice versa. It's always tough. My mindset will never change. You can't take anything lightly. I won't change a thing."

That also means he'll continue to lean on O'Donnell, who made his NHL debut with the Kings during the 1994-95 season, when Doughty was a 5-year-old idolizing Wayne Gretzky.

Although they are separated by 19 years in age and 1,019 games of experience, including the playoffs, O'Donnell and Doughty are pretty close now. They sit side-by-side in the dressing room at both the Kings' practice facility and the Staples Center. They share ice time together. They joke around with each other. They're constantly talking, on the bench, the ice and in the dressing room.

Of course, O'Donnell is dishing the sage advice and Doughty is the student.

"He's only been here for a week or so and he's already taught me things I never thought of," Doughty said. "After every shift he's telling me something new. It's amazing. I love having him as a D-partner. He's so knowledgeable."

O'Donnell has also played in Southern California since 2006 when Phoenix traded him to Anaheim, so he may be able to advise Doughty on real estate in the area as well.

That lesson may have to wait until next month.

"I'm living (at the Residence Inn) until they tell me to get a place," Doughty said.

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