The growth Drew Doughty experienced last season was reflected more in intangible qualities than his statistics
Following the 2012-13 season, Drew Doughty received one second place vote for the Norris Trophy. He garnered two third place votes, seven fourth place votes, and five fifth place votes. The 43 points he earned in the voting for displaying the league’s “greatest all-around ability in the position” resulted in a ninth place finish for Norris Trophy voting, which is conducted by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
His placement between Shea Weber and Niklas Kronwall in voting wasn’t a surprise, nor was a top-three finish deserved. A player’s performance during the regular season is used as the criteria in which he is judged in awards voting, and Doughty was a minus-two in five of his first 13 games. Much of his early outside evaluation gravitated towards his lack of production, as the player who recorded a 59-point sophomore season that he began as a teenager in 2009 didn’t record a goal until the 29th game of the season.
Though he hasn’t yet approached his offensive production from 2009-10, he is a thoroughly more complete player, and was able to translate some of the growing pains he experienced last January and February into the continued execution of the responsible, protective aspects of playing defense.
“I had to do some different things than I usually do. I took on some different roles,” Doughty said. “I was on the first PK a lot of times. In my career before that, I really was like second PK, and sometimes not even on it. So I think I learned a lot of things.”
In a 48-game season, Doughty played with more defensive partners than he normally would in a regular 82-game season. After opening the season with Rob Scuderi, he skated alongside Keaton Ellerby after the 6-foot-5 defenseman was acquired in a trade with Florida. He skated with Jake Muzzin throughout much of March and helped lift the rookie’s mid-season production curve.
“Drew can play with anybody, but Drew’s on the ice against the other team’s best players a lot,” Darryl Sutter said while noting that the multiple partners Doughty played with was a byproduct of the injuries to Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell.
“Drew’s partner last year wasn’t necessarily doing a good enough job for us, so we got Robyn.”
The team was 7-3-2 in regular season games after acquiring Robyn Regehr prior to the trading deadline and advanced to the Western Conference Final, by which time an ankle injury that Doughty had suffered in the second round series against San Jose limited his effectiveness against the Blackhawks’ top offensive performers. Doughty saw the majority of his minutes with the 33-year-old veteran following his arrival from Buffalo.
Doughty appeared to boost the team’s ability to possess the puck and generate scoring chances when paired with Muzzin. The two finished amongst the team’s top three defensemen in on-ice Corsi, which measures the sum of all shots (on goal, blocked, missed net) directed towards the attacking net, subtracted by the sum of all shots directed towards the net a player defends. A statistic that has gained a foothold in hockey discussion in recent years, Doughty’s high Corsi rating is a valuable metric, given Sutter’s assertion that he saw the ice primarily against the other team’s top players.
“The thing with me and Muzz is they come in on the forecheck. They dump the puck in, and we both have enough skill to either do it ourselves, or we both have the vision to either use the partner or use one of the wingers,” Doughty said. “When you have two threats as a forechecking team going back, it’s tough to turn over the puck. And same thing in the neutral zone – if we have possession, we’re usually going to make a good play. And then in the offensive zone, we’re both very active. Both have good shots and open up space for each other in the offensive zone. So I think me and Muzz, we’re a great pairing, and he’s just going to get better with experience, and I think he’ll be a very good player for us this year.”
There was a sentiment late last season that by acquiring Regehr, the offensive aspects of Doughty’s game would become unrestrained, providing the dynamic young defenseman the ability to exhibit his offensive characteristics more freely. Though three of the five goals he scored following Regehr’s arrival were potted on the power play – where Regehr saw scant time – it’s a notion Doughty agrees with.
“At the very beginning of the season, I was playing like Muzz, Keats – I don’t even remember who I was playing with now – but I was playing with a lot of guys that are younger, and both have offensive skill, so we kind of had to take turns doing that,” he said. “And then with Reg – not that he doesn’t have that offensive skill – but he doesn’t jump up in the rush as much, and he’s not as offensive as I am. He’s always back there for me. It was kind of like when I used to play with Scuderi. He’s always back there for me, and I could jump in and play a lot of offense.”
Though he didn’t play a single game with the club last year due to a knee injury, Willie Mitchell would watch games at Staples Center and from the comforts of his home last season and developed an appreciation for the growth and evolution Doughty exhibited.
“I think it probably went unrecognized, in my opinion,” Mitchell said of his former defensive partner.
“Drew on a top-four, had to be the responsible guy. He got thrust in a role where he was playing with other guys who were young players.”
It’s almost bizarre to think of Doughty, who will turn 24 in December, as the sage, weathered defensive pillar. But it’s the role he assumed a season ago as he took regular shifts alongside Ellerby (born in November, 1988) and Muzzin (born in February, 1989).
“Even though I’m still the same age as them, I used my experience to kind of teach ‘em things to kind of groove ‘em into the situation, and then I played with some older guys like Reg. Whoever I play with, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want to do whatever it takes to help this team win,” Doughty said.
On a statistical level, Doughty’s 2012-13 season may not elicit the greatest deal of attention when recalling the prime seasons of his career many years from now.
But from an observation of his maturation arc and the continued development of his all-around ability that began in earnest during the team’s Stanley Cup run in the spring of 2012, Doughty took major strides a season ago that are distinguishable more in the intangible than in any type of statistic.
“Young guys come into the NHL and don’t know players, and he has to be the responsible one. He’s the one anchoring the pair, so to speak, so if this guy gets caught, or whatever, he’s making the read to settle things down,” Mitchell said. “I think at times that it might have taken away from a little bit of his offense because he had to be the responsible guy, but I think it really grew his game a lot, and he became a much more accountable player that way.”
“He was always good that way. He’s a world class player that way. We all know that. But it makes you work on that part. So I think this year, if we can stay healthy, he’ll have that responsibility where he’s kind of improved in that area a little bit, and then also be able to open up the offensive part of his game a little bit more.”
***Doughty will be among the players visiting Dodger Stadium on Thursday as part of the Coors Light Stadium Series media conference to promote the outdoor game between the Kings and Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, January 25. A live stream will be hosted at LAKings.com beginning at 1:00 p.m.***