Drew Doughty, future Norris Trophy winner.
That’s what was being thrown around when the Kings used the second overall pick at the 2008 NHL Draft to take the London, Ontario native.
Things started off on the right foot too, as he made the team the following October at just 18 years old. Then, in 2010 he was arguably Canada’s best defenseman at the Winter Olympics and a few months later he earned his first ever Norris Trophy nomination.
Despite winning the Stanley Cup last June though, the last two seasons haven’t been Doughty-like years when you look back to 2010 – a period where he seemed to be coming into his own as one of the league’s truly elite defenseman.
So, Drew Doughty – Norris Trophy winner. Is that still in the cards?
“It’s one of my dreams,” said the now 23-year old Doughty, as he prepares for his fifth NHL season. “I was close a couple years back and I felt like my regular seasons haven’t lived up to that. So this year’s going to be a big one for me, I hope.”
From all indications, he’s taking things a little more seriously than he has in the past – starting with his conditioning.
“I’m feeling good, my weight is down,” remarked Doughty. “I’m only weighing about 205 (lbs) right now, which is a little bit down from what it was last year (coming into camp). So, I’m feeling good and this week is going to be important for everyone to get in shape, get back into game form.”
Doughty later revealed he might actually put some weight back on if he doesn’t feel completely comfortable on the ice as this new leaner-meaner version.
Truth be told though, DD-lite may have caught a few of his teammates off guard this weekend. Many hadn’t seen him during the lockout and even GM Dean Lombardi hasn’t shied away from joking about Doughty hiding out in London for the last six months.
“You know, as much as I love being here in LA, and everything about it, I just feel like when I’m in LA, I’m in hockey mode and I felt like being home where I could enjoy myself a little more,” explained Doughty. “This was the first time I was home for my birthday and first time I was home for Christmas in seven or eight years. So that’s one of the bigger reasons why I was home – to spend time with my family and friends. But, even though I wasn’t here, I still worked hard back home.”
Maybe Lombardi wasn’t joking, maybe that barber in London did give him some good info about what had been going on back home because to to get to this point, Doughty clearly had to make some changes.
“A lot of it has to do with eating healthy,” he began to explain. “It’s a lot easier to eat healthy throughout the summer months when you have more time to be home - to cook meals and stuff like that. That’s one of the things for sure and just working hard on the ice and getting to the gym…I was working out with my trainer at the same time back home. So I worked pretty hard over the off-season.”
This whole story sounds like quite the departure form a year ago when Doughty showed up to start the season in less than optimal condition following a prolonged contract dispute with the team.
“You know, I thought I was up to speed, (but) I got hurt pretty quick at the start of the season,” he said. “After that, it took me a while to get back up to speed.”
Then in December 2011 came the big change, the one thing that probably helped Doughty the most last season.
“I think my whole game turned around once Darryl came in, I started playing a lot better,” Doughty said. “They put me back with Scuds, who I’ve been comfortable with for a few years now. I think when that happened, my season turned around and I started to play like I can.”
Teammate Dustin Brown was certainly impressed with Doughty’s contribution in the playoffs (four goals, 16 points and a plus-11 rating). But, when combined with his positive strides in conditioning, Brown thinks the best is probably yet to come.
“I think it’s just a progression of Drew Doughty as a professional really,” noted the Kings captain. “Everyone goes through it. I remember myself as a young guy, I probably didn’t take the physical side as serious as I do now and you know, the older you get the more you learn about it.”
Maybe, just maybe, the pieces are starting to fit together. Doughty has a coaching staff that’s keeping him on track, he’s taking his off-ice training seriously – could this possibly lead to the return of a dominate Doughty for the Kings?
“I think he’s always been capable of that,” said Brown. “For him, I think it’s important that he just focuses on his whole game. Sometimes he’s playing really good hockey, but he gets frustrated because he’s not getting points and I understand that. But, he plays against the top lines on the other teams. I mean, he’s our number one defenseman and he brings a lot more to the table than just getting points. He has a complete game and he really needs to just focus on his whole game every night.”
If he does as Brown suggests, this could be the year.
With the retirement of Nick Lidstrom in Detroit there’s a vacuum in the league on the blueline. Zdeno Chara is 35 years old and the yin of Shea Weber may have lost his yang when Ryan Suter bolted Nashville.
If Doughty is serious about making another run at that Norris trophy, he has 48 games to prove to the league that he’s back and better than ever.
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