Follow @frozenroyaltyEL SEGUNDO, CA — Back in 2009-10, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty was in his sophomore season in the National Hockey League, and was on top of the world, playing his way to becoming a finalist for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the best defenseman in the NHL.
That season, Doughty, then just twenty years old, set the league on fire, scoring 16 goals and adding 43 assists for 59 points, with a +20 plus/minus rating and 54 penalty minutes in 82 regular season games.
Doughty’s play raised eyebrows at Hockey Canada, earning a spot on Team Canada for the XXI Olympic Winter Games (2010) in Vancouver.
As a still-wet-behind-the-ears NHL defenseman, Doughty was not expected to get much playing time for Team Canada, if any. After all, he was tabbed as Canada’s seventh defenseman, behind established NHL blue liners, Dan Boyle, Scott Niedermayer, Duncan Keith, Chris Pronger, Brent Seabrook, and Shea Weber.
But by the time the Vancouver Olympics were over, Doughty moved way up the ranks to become one of Canada’s top six defensemen—only Keith, Niedermayer and Weber had more ice time.
Many observers have said that Doughty did not just work himself into Canada’s top six. Indeed, by the end of the tournament, there were a lot of murmurs about Doughty being Canada’s best defenseman in the Olympics, one who was instrumental in Canada winning the Gold Medal.
After that monumental 2009-10 season, Doughty came back to Earth—some would say “plummeted.” Indeed, his numbers dropped way off, indicative of his season-long struggle to find his offensive game, and to address issues with consistency in the defensive zone.
Despite the drop in his numbers, Doughty, now 22, demanded a huge raise heading into the 2011-12 season, signing a new, eight-year contract extension on October 1, 2011, that pays him an average of $7 million per season, but only after holding out and missing all of training camp.
As it usually does for contract holdouts, missing training camp was a setback for Doughty, as his conditioning and timing lagged behind that of his teammates. But his problems ran deeper than the obvious physical and execution-related issues.
“[Signing the big contract was one of] the bigger reasons why I struggled the first half of the year,” Doughty explained. “I put all that pressure on myself with the big contract. I just wasn’t doing the things I knew I could.”
“I wasn’t happy coming to the rink every day,” Doughty elaborated. “I was disappointed in my play. I was disappointed that I wasn’t playing up to the standards I had got myself into.”
About halfway through the season, Doughty began to find his groove.
“Finally things started turning around,” he said. “My play definitely got a lot better. I just realized that coming [to the practice rink] and not enjoying myself—that’s the reason I play this game, because I have so much fun doing it. I enjoy being with the guys, and going out on the ice every day. Once I realized that I wasn’t having fun, I decided to re-focus, and not worry about that stuff.”
“I just put it in the back of my mind,” he added. “I didn’t care what people said, and I started to have fun.”
His teammates noticed the change.
“That demeanor that he has—he just enjoys being at the rink every day,” said veteran center Mike Richards. “He always seems to have a good day, no matter what’s going on. When you have a guy like that, a superstar, that helps relax everybody, and it make coming to the rink enjoyable.”
If his play during the 2012 post-season is any indication, Doughty is having a total blast, as he has been one of the Kings’ best players in every game, but is now one of the leading candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded each season to the Most Valuable Player of the playoffs.
“It feels great, I’m having a lot of fun right now,” said Doughty. “This is the biggest time of the year. I know, in order for our team to be successful, I’ve got to be the best defenseman on the ice every night.”
“Even though I kind of put that pressure on myself, I’m having fun, and I think that’s when I’m at my best,” added Doughty. “I’m enjoying coming to the rink every day, enjoying that first shift in every game, being in this moment in the spotlight in the Stanley Cup Final is something I’ve always dreamt about.”
Doughty has indeed been the best defenseman on the ice in just about every game during the playoffs.
“He elevates his game,” said veteran defenseman Matt Greene. “Like you saw a couple of years ago at the Olympics, he played his best hockey when the pressure was on. He’s done that his whole life, and now, he’s doing it for us.”
Speaking of the Olympics, Doughty’s play during the 2012 playoffs is not just reminiscent of how he played in the 2010 Olympics…
“He’s been unbelievable for us,” said Richards, who played with Doughty on that Canadian team in the 2010 Olympics. “This is the best I’ve ever seen him play, [either] in the regular season, and playing with him in the Olympics.”
“He’s growing up,” Greene noted. “It takes a little bit longer for a defenseman to mature in this league, and Drew had a lot of success early on. It comes to the point where you’re different from a young player. Now you’re an everyday player, and you’ve got to have that same level every night. I think he’s realized that, he’s matured into it, and now, he’s taking advantage of it.”
During the playoffs, Doughty has been matched up against the opposition’s top lines, and he has responded with one big performance after another, most notably, in the defensive zone, where his game has improved greatly from two seasons ago.
“Everyone was all over Drew, all season long, for not performing well,” said right wing and team captain Dustin Brown. “It makes guys who play with him laugh about it, because he probably didn’t have the numbers he wanted, or the numbers [the media] expected. But he plays against the other team’s top lines every night. That’s something you don’t see from a guy as young as he is very often.”
“Now you’re starting to see how well he can play on the offensive side of things,” added Brown. “But even more so, look at [the New Jersey Devils’] top players. They haven’t been very successful in the first two games.”
Like the rest of his teammates, Doughty, who has three goals and nine assists for twelve points, with a +12 rating and 14 penalty minutes in 16 playoff games this season, is not trying to do anything different from usual.
“I’m treating it as any other game,” he stressed. “I know a Stanley Cup Final is do or die, and there’s a lot of things to think about, but I’m trying to play my game. Like, I said, it’s a moment you’ve got to enjoy, it’s a moment you’ve got to embrace.”
“At this stage of the year, I want to be at my best, and the way I’m going to do that, the way I’m going to be successful, is having fun and being myself.”
Raw Audio Interviews: Los Angeles Kings Media Availability, June 3, 2012
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; requires Adobe Flash Player):
Dustin Brown (4:31)
Jeff Carter (3:18)
Drew Doughty (5:17)
Matt Greene (4:05)
Anze Kopitar (1:53)
Mike Richards (6:10)
Darryl Sutter (7:59)
2012 Stanley Cup Final, Los Angeles Kings vs. New Jersey Devils Game 2 Highlights, June 4, 2012
Tickets for the Kings’ upcoming home Stanley Cup Finals games against the New Jersey Devils – June 4, 5:00 PM PDT (Devils vs. Kings: Game 3); June 6, 5:00 PM (Devils vs. Kings: Game 4); June 11, 5:00 PM (Devils vs. Kings: Game 6 – if necessary )are available from Barry’s Tickets, an official partner of the Los Angeles Kings. Use the code, “Royalty010” to get a 10 percent discount on their “Best Value” tickets.
Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.