Regardless of the year — or the locker room — opening days of NHL training camps are usually filled with plenty of ‘I’m in great shape’ and ‘We like our team this year’ quotes. However, when you dig deeper, there can often be a wealth of interesting storylines and Drew Doughty served one up on a silver platter less than 48 hours into the Kings officially prepping for the upcoming season.
“My goal is to help our entire d-core, help make everyone better, and definitely get my game back in order,” said the 31-year-old defenseman when asked his goals for the upcoming campaign. “Not that my game has gone as far as people think.”
And there it is.
Nearly any GM in the league will tell you Doughty is still one of the top defensemen in the league. Yet, that doesn’t stop people from making wide-sweeping claims about his demise — and he’s been slowly collecting those bulletin board slights over the past nine months off.
“Doughty was very solid for us last year. He doesn’t get enough credit for it. He gets knocked too much,” claimed Kings coach Todd McLellan, who sees a veteran blueliner with plenty of good years in the league ahead of him. “Drew is underappreciated maybe because he’s not producing as many points. But when you sit in our locker room, when you sit in our office, the appreciation level for what he does is quite high. You look at the amount of minutes he plays, the type of competition he plays against, the zone starts at times, the heavy minutes and the amount of game that he can control from back there – we’re very very fortunate to have him. He’s a tremendous player.”
Compliments from his coach aside — as flattering as the praise may be — Doughty hasn’t forgotten about the haters.
“It’s definitely the media,” Doughty began, when we asked for further explanation of what seems to have gotten under his skin of late. “I was in Canada for a while, and when you turn on TSN, all they talk about is hockey and I’m seeing guys not having me making the next Olympic team in a couple years. That frustrated me and I see rankings and that come out and other stuff on my Twitter. I definitely don’t hear that from my peers, ever. It’s media and you can look it up if you want to see it.”
Playing with a chip on your shoulder can be good. It can also be a distraction, if allowed.
Fortunately for the Kings, anybody who spends five minutes around McLellan will very clearly understand how LA’s bench boss will likely harness this energy into something positive.
A few seasons ago, former Kings coach John Stevens once talked about not wanting to dim the fire inside Doughty. This is yet another case where harnessing his emotion and passion for the game can lead to great things. And it wouldn’t be the first time a prideful champion wearing a Kings sweater had his abilities questioned. Wayne Gretzky used similar criticism to fuel him in the 1993 playoffs.
For McLellan and the Kings to get back to the post-season in 2020, they’ll undoubtedly need a better version of Doughty — maybe not the Norris Trophy version, but a step or two ahead of what he’s displayed the past two seasons.
“I know a lot of people still don’t think we’re making the playoffs, but my goal, for our team, is still to make the playoffs and I don’t see why we can’t,” remarked Doughty.
Enter Olli Maatta.
Doughty quickly turned that frown upside down when talking about his new defensive partner.
“This is probably the first time since Rob Scuderi — and I don’t know how many years ago that was — but it’s the first time I’ve played with a veteran,” Doughty began, as he was about to open up on a topic that he’s clearly put some thought into over the past few months. “I played with [Jake] Muzzin for a bit, but he was a rookie, kind of coming in there, broke him in. Then I was with [Brayden] McNabb for a bit, and then [Derek] Forbort for a bit. Then, last year, I kind of played with whoever. So, I’ve always had rookie d-men. To have a veteran partner this year, it’ll be different, but I think It’ll be beneficial for me, for sure.”
Maatta certainly qualifies as a veteran. Despite being only 26 years old, he’s already played over 500 combined games, between the regular season and playoffs. He’s also won a pair of Cups, so he’s familiar with the deep water and what it takes to pull out difficult wins in a league ripe with parity.
“I’m not making any excuses or anything, but when you’re playing with six, seven different partners, it’s hard to get things rolling,” explained Doughty. “Olli is a smart player. He’s a veteran in this league. With his attention to detail, he’s going to have all the systems down pat by the end of this week, no problem. He probably already does.”
Doughty says he had “no clue” the Kings were making a deal for the left shot defenseman, but was thrilled at hearing the news, not only for the reasons described about, but because he feels he already knows Maatta fairly well after training with him during the offseason in London, Ontario the past few summers.
“It’s just exciting because we play the same,” Doughty quipped. “We’re thinkers. We’re not necessarily the fastest skaters. We’re good positionally. We’re going to move the puck. We’re good at making plays to give each other more time. I think I’m going to get a lot more pucks on the blueline this year from him because he’s always looking over. So that’ll be amazing. But coming out with possession in our own zone is going to be one of our specialties, along with shutting down other teams’ best players.”
He wasn’t done either.
“I think we’re gonna be something special together,” shared Doughty. “We look forward to growing our partnership and getting better and better every game, leading by example.”
McLellan seemed to support some of Doughty’s early impressions, when revealing his own thoughts on the new pair following Friday’s second day of camp.
“They’re already connecting, you see it in practice, you see them in the scrimmages,” added McLellan. “They seem to have a relationship that’s building. Once [Maatta] gets the system down, that will make it even easier for Drew.”
With just a pair of practices and scrimmages under his belt, Maata had no problem jumping in and commenting on the budding bromance.
“I think we do think the game the same way and that’s a big thing,” noted the Finnish born defender. “He’s a guy that I always loved to watch play and it was awesome to skate together in the summer. I was able to actually see closely what he does on the ice. So, it’s awesome to be playing with him now and I’m just excited. I think it’s a great opportunity, for me and our whole team.”
From those summer sessions to the opening few days of camp, it hasn’t taken Maatta long to pick up on one of Doughty’s trademark skills.
“He talks a lot,” began Maatta, right before turning it into a positive trait. “That’s one of the key things on how to build [trust as partners]. You just have to talk all the time, like talk about ‘What do you like to do in different situations?’ So when we are in the game, it’s automatic, you don’t even really think or hesitate out there, it has to come naturally. I think all the things over the last two days felt pretty good, especially breaking out on the blueline. I think I almost already know where he’s he’s gonna be. It seems the same for him. It feels like there isn’t a big gap on how we approach a game.”
The praise didn’t stop there either.
“I think he’s one of the best D-men in the league, he’s definitely shown that,” Maatta said with authority. “I can’t really think of anybody who kind of plays like that. He understands the game so well, and he sees the ice. I feel like he’s making the right plays all the time.”
Kings GM Rob Blake offered his own thoughts about LA’s top defenseman, when asked about his expectations for Doughty this season.
“We expect him to be the same Drew. Be the leader on this team and be a real good player,” commented the Hall of Famer. “I think we’re going to surround him with some better defensemen. First and foremost, Olli Maatta is going to help there.”
Ah, yes, Olli Maatta. There he is again.
“The more we can surround [Doughty] with better players throughout this lineup, it gives that positive reinforcement that we were going to keep moving forward,” Blake continued.
Building on the first two motivators that could lead to an improved Drew Doughty, there is also what he’s been up to since the Kings last played games in March.
“You’re always playing with [little injuries] and things are always nagging at you,” stated Doughty, who reported he was training five days a week. “I finally had however many months off and my body is ready. I was able to actually lift weights, for real, and get heavy, get much stronger; when in the past, it was all maintenance stuff. It was a blessing in disguise for me personally, and I think for our entire team. We’re all healthy again, we’re all more than ready to go for this season. We all prepared so hard, on and off the ice. I took advantage of that time, that’s for sure.”
He took advantage of the time off.
Blake took advantage of Chicago’s cap crunch.
And Maatta is eager to take advantage of this new opportunity.
Now McLellan wants to leverage the relationship between Doughty and Maatta, hoping to have them anchor a blueline of a Kings team looking to return to the playoffs.
Note to webmasters/reporters: When recapping news or interviews from this site please remember to include a link to www.MayorsManor.com