EL SEGUNDO, CA — After playing in just 109 regular season games with the Los Angeles Kings over the previous four seasons, including a career-low nine games last season, defenseman Davis Drewiske must have felt like he was just spinning his wheels, at times, terribly frustrated with the major lack of ice time.
Of course, Drewiske was the seventh defenseman on the Kings’ depth chart, and heading into the shortened 2013 National Hockey League season, it looked like he was in for more of the same. But Willie Mitchell underwent off-season knee surgery, and is still out of the lineup. Further, Matt Greene was lost to a herniated disc, requiring back surgery that will keep him out of the lineup until at least late March.
To be sure, opportunity knocking sometimes sounds really, really bad. Nevertheless, it was music to Drewiske’s ears, and he is working to make the most of the chance to play regularly…for a change.
Making things a bit tougher for Drewiske is that he is filling in for Greene on the right side, which is not his natural position as a left shot.
“It’s tough for one guy to replace [Greene],” said Drewiske, 28. “He brings a lot to the table. We all have different tools, and we’ve got to find a way to get the job done. Physically, there’s definitely some heightened awareness for myself. I’m just trying to recognize the right spots to [be physical] in.”
Through five games this season, the 6-1, 200-pound native of Hudson, Wisconsin has recorded one assist, has a +2 plus/minus rating, and is averaging 12:33 of ice time per game. His play has caught the eye of the coaches, who have enough trust in his play to put him out on the penalty-kill.
“It’s good [to have earned that level of trust from the coaching staff],” he noted. “It’s something I can grab ahold of. [Penalty-killing is] something I’ve done in the past, and it’s something I take a lot of pride in.”
“Like Greene, I try to block shots, which is a big part of penalty-killing,” he added. “I’ve had a lot of good guys to watch here the past couple of years, between [Rob] Scuderi, Greene and Mitchell. I learned a lot from them.”
“It’s nice to have that kind of identity with the penalty-kill. I can build on that, and get confidence from that.”
Head coach Darryl Sutter emphasized that Drewiske is being called upon to fill Greene’s skate boots.
“We’d like to get him to the point where he’s playing two or three minutes more [per game],” said Sutter. “He has to replace Matt Greene’s minutes, simple, and he has to give us quality minutes. Greene’s a penalty-killer, Greene’s a guy who plays in [key] situations.”
In order to gain the trust needed to get more ice time, Drewiske knows he still has a lot of work to do.
“Then there’s just trying to keep getting better, five-on-five, play in the neutral zone, gaps, being physical at the right times,” said Drewiske. “A lot of time, if we do a good job in the neutral zone, and if we do a good job of getting the puck out of our own end, you don’t have to worry about being physical, because we have the puck, and we’re playing offense. Then, it’s just trying to recognize spots where I have a chance to be physical, using my size and strength.”
“Especially, with Greene out, that’s something we’re missing a little bit back there, so I’ve got to be able to do that, too,” added Drewiske.
With the injuries to Greene and Mitchell, the Kings have been forced to have a rookie blue liner paired with an fairly inexperienced one. But Drewiske indicated that familiarity with each other has helped.
“[Rookie defenseman Jake] Muzzin and I have played together before,” Drewiske noted. “I think we’re comfortable, the communication is there. We’re just trying to keep getting more minutes, and keep getting better.”
But spending so much time as a healthy scratch, especially last year, had to be frustrating, to say the least. But Drewiske indicated that he does not let that get to him.
“When you’re not having success, when you’re not playing, there’s a lot of time for self-reflection, self-evaluation,” he explained. “For the most part, I’ve tried to stay true to my own process. I felt like I was working hard and improving. It’s just a stubbornness. You just have to stick with it, and give it the work. It doesn’t mean everything’s going to turn out in your favor, but that’s all you can do.”
“More than anything, we have a good team here,” he elaborated. “I don’t want to let the group down. I’m going to try not to let myself be responsible for us not having success. I’m just going to try to do my part, play my role, play it well, fill in, and help us win games. That’s what everyone wants to do, that’s why everyone’s here. It’s good to play.”
As young players mature, one often hears them talking about learning not to worry about things they have no control over.
This is exactly the approach Drewiske is taking, especially when it comes to playing time, and to a large degree, his career.
“It’s not worth looking a week down the road, or a month down the road, or a year down the road,” he stressed. “It’s just one day at a time. Like I said, I’m going to try to stay true to my process, because I think it’s a good one. [I’m going to] approach every day with some work, and try to stay as positive as I can. It’s a waste of time to try to look too far ahead.”
The challenge ahead is to improve and to play consistently at that improved level, a challenge that Sutter has laid directly at Drewiske’s feet.
“You want him to get there in a hurry, but you also understand that it’s not that easy,” Sutter noted. “It’s a tough position, but he’s done a good job.”
“He’s had to play the other side, and as long I can keep [rewinding] the tape on him, meaning answer your questions the very same [way] about how he’s playing, then he’s doing his job.”
“There’s still plenty of room for improvement,” said Drewiske. “I’m just trying to stay positive. I’m working to keep getting better, and give us quality minutes.”
Drewiske emphasized that there is one aspect of Greene’s contributions to the Kings that he will never be able to replace by himself.
“The room is a little bit quieter with him gone, so everyone’s got to pick up the slack there, too,” he joked.
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Davis Drewiske (4:07)
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