Drew Doughty manages to bring a welcome dose of truth serum when it’s time for his chats with the media. Perhaps he missed out on all those classes where younger players are taught to spew endless clichés and generic replies that are just as likely to be coming from a handful of players on any other NHL team. Instead, Doughty’s answers actually provide depth and insight. His honesty is quite refreshing, actually. Regardless of if the conversations are taking place after a tough loss, during an off day at practice, or even on the opening days of training camp, LA’s top defenseman just has a special way of opening his soul for all to enjoy.
“Winning cures everything,” said the 31-year-old blueliner. “We’re winning more games, were always in the game, unlike in past years. When that happens, what isn’t there to be excited about? We have a lot of young prospects coming up, a lot of young guys showing great things out there. That’s super exciting for me.”
For anybody wondering if a happy Doughty is a productive Doughty, the results should speak for themselves. He was nearly a point-per-game player in the month of February and is among the league leaders for points by defensemen thus far this year. Yet, his value to the team has always been about far more than the offense provided.
“My defensive game is my most proud attribute, especially this season,” he shared. “I think I’ve been really good in that department. I know I’m getting points, you see the recognition, but my defensive game is my specialty and I take a lot of pride in that.”
Even so, there has been a noticeable uptick in his offensive output this season.
“I worked a lot on my shot during [the long layoff],” explained Doughty. “Back home, we couldn’t have more than eight guys on the ice. I would get three guys and get them to pass me pucks, so I worked on my shot a lot. Besides that, it’s just the guys around me. The powerplay is clicking, guys around me are putting the puck in the net, and giving me good passes to put the puck in the net. I don’t think it’s anything I’ve changed or anything I’m doing differently, the puck is just going in for me right now and hopefully, it continues.”
Something else happened during the time between March 2020 and the Kings gearing up for their 2021 season, Doughty took some time for reflection; looking at what had worked in years past and trying to identify a few things that weren’t working as well as he’d expected.
“That was the biggest thing,” he shared. “Everyone’s telling me I’m doing too much, don’t try to do too much. Maybe I took a step back last year. Statistically, I had a shit year. I’m just playing the game, I’m just having fun. Just trying to be the best player I can be for our team, trying to dominate as much as I can out there, and being a good leader – both on and off the ice. I’ve had a lot of growth in that area over the years, and I think I’m doing a good job at that. I’m having fun working with the young guys. When you have that long break, you really start to miss the game and really want to get back out there. I never took anything for granted playing in the NHL or for the LA Kings. When you miss that much time, it really makes you miss it, it really makes you want to get back out there.”
For all the talk around the Kings these days about their bright future and looking ahead, Doughty was also quick to shine light on some of the core principles that led them to a pair of Stanley Cups – character, leadership, and veterans mentoring younger players.
“Matt Greene was a mentor to me, like a big brother,” Doughty added. “He took me under his wing in my first season. Ever since then, and still to this day, if I have any leadership issues or questions, I’m calling Matt Greene. Anybody that’s ever played with him can tell you that he’s one of the best leaders they’ve ever seen. No, I’m not the same leader he is, I go about it in a different way, but there are a lot of things that I took from him that I use in my leadership skills.”
Coming off a 4-1-1 road trip, and a stretch late last month where the Kings won six straight games, the current team looks vastly improved compared to the one playing during the first few weeks of this season.
“It’s just confidence, both individually and as a team,” he remarked. “Once we saw we could put a string of games together, and at times dominate teams — you go into a place like St. Louis and beat one of the best teams in our division, the confidence just grows. When you’re playing with confidence, you’re feeling happy, you’re not afraid to make mistakes. That’s what I think we were best at on the trip.”
Looking at the bigger picture, this Kings team is also much better than last year’s version.
“I think we’re better in all areas,” Doughty said with some of that same excitement he referred to earlier. “When our forecheck is on, we’re a really, really hard team to play against. We frustrate teams with our neutral zone forecheck. Last year, it was new to us and we didn’t perfect it until later on in the season. This year, we’re right back at it and feeling good with it. I think we’ve tackled that, our forecheck and our neutral zone forecheck are a lot better this year.”
Do they have enough to make the playoffs? And would that be an important step for the team at this point?
“I definitely think it’s important,” Doughty emphatically stated. “I definitely think there’s a chance we can make the playoffs. I wouldn’t say that we’re 100% going to make it or anything like that, we have a lot of work to do. I definitely can see us hopefully getting into that third or fourth slot. That’s our goal and if anyone doesn’t think that we can potentially make the playoffs, what’s the point in coming here every day? That’s what we’re playing for. Yes, we need to rebuild and make the team better and stuff like that, but if you’re not playing to win every game and trying to make the playoffs, I don’t know what the hell the point of coming to the rink is. I definitely think we could make the playoffs. I definitely think we could frustrate and maybe surprise someone, but I’m not going to go out there and say we are a playoff team right now.”
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