When the Los Angeles Kings return to New Jersey on Friday for the first time since the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, Drew Doughty will once again skate under the banner depicting the retired number of Scott Niedermayer.
Inducted into the Hall of Fame earlier this week, the swift-skating, poised and positionally savvy Niedermayer had a profound influence on many defensemen born in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Darryl Sutter said that the two are “very similar players,” even if they don’t necessarily have identical skill sets.
“They play both ends of the ice. They both really skate. They both can play against top players. They’re both good on the power play,” Sutter said before noting that Doughty will eventually evolve to become the type of penalty killer Niedermayer was.
In a press conference roughly two hours after he scored his memorable goal on Martin Brodeur off a near end-to-end rush in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, Doughty spoke about the broader significance of the moment – and the Devil was certainly in the details.
“I actually remember Niedermayer, when he played in New Jersey, having a couple of end-to-enders,” Doughty said. “He was an unbelievable player here and everywhere he played, and I always wanted to emulate him, and he scored some highlight-reel goals I'll always remember.”
Though Doughty maintains his high level of reverence towards Niedermayer, there’s another player from the same era whom he credits as having a significant impact on the way he plays.
“I liked Rob Blake growing up,” Doughty said, “He was my favorite defenseman, being a Kings fan.”
“He definitely had an influence on me. That hip check he always threw when he was playing, I’ve learned to do that over the years. I definitely saw him do it first when I was a kid. He was a great influence on my career and was my favorite defenseman growing up. It’s kind of cool he’s part of the organization with us now.”
Many Western Canadians were naturally drawn to Niedermayer, a Cranbrook, British Columbia native, though Doughty noted that any provincial connection between he and Blake, a product of Simcoe, Ontario, was a loose one. The appreciation originally stemmed from Blake playing with Wayne Gretzky and the Kings.
In the other direction, a two hour drive west of Doughty’s hometown of London, Ontario, resided a defensive legend who will become Hall of Fame-eligible in 2015.
“As I got older, I really started paying attention to Nick Lidstrom. He became my favorite defenseman after [Blake],” Doughty said. “Those two players, I kind of find that my game is sort of in the middle of those two. Again, [to be] even close to as good as them would be an honor.”
Proximity certainly played a role on the influence of Jake Muzzin’s game. Muzzin, a Woodstock, Ontario native, turned to the east to find his favorite players when he was young.
“Growing up, it was just like the guys on the Leafs – Doug Gilmour, Mats Sundin,” he said. “Then as I got a little more serious, I started watching the D – like Chris Pronger, and obviously Nick Lidstrom – guys like that who were so good at the game. They make the game look easy.”
Muzzin has appeared in parts of three seasons with the Kings, affording him an opportunity to gain perspective from a variety of players, including one 10 months younger than he.
“The good D in the league, I watch what they do. Even in video here, I Watch what Drew does, and Reg and Mitchie, and just learning little stuff on the PK, five-on-five, whatever it may be. You can always, always get better and always learn.”
“Even Dewey – he’s been in the league a while now. A veteran guy. He may not be old, but [he is] experience-wise. You learn every day from those guys.”
It’s almost astounding to think that Doughty, who turns 24 next month, is already in his sixth NHL season. During the 2012 Stanley Cup Final he had the opportunity to meet with several draft-eligible players and pass along several words of encouragement.
One of those players was Ryan Murray, who was selected second overall by Columbus in 2012 and wears number 27 to commemorate Niedermayer, a primary influence in his budding career.
Murray savored the opportunity.
“I wanted to meet Doughty,” Murray told NBC Pro Hockey Talk at the time. (hyperlink necessary: http://prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com/2012/06/02/draft-prospects-meet-their-heroes-at-stanley-cup-finals/) “He’s such a great player and he’s done a lot in his career already.”
That he has already built up some influence on younger players not long after he looked to his own heroes for direction is something that is both new and welcoming.
“It is a little weird for sure. It’s an honor, too. I want to be one of the best defensemen in this league, and I feel like I’m right around there. But I just want to be the number one,” he said
“If kids are trying to model their game after me, and if I’m their favorite player, then obviously I’m doing something right. It’s great to play against guys who tell me even on their ice that I was their favorite player growing up. It’s pretty cool, and it’s overwhelming a little bit, to be honest.”
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More on Doughty’s influences:
On Scott Niedermayer:
I’ve always liked watching him play. He’s so fluid out there and such a good player. He was my captain at the Olympics and so I finally got to meet him and play on his team. He was an unbelievable player, an unbelievable person, and someone that hopefully I can be as good as him at some point one day. Close to as good as him, anyway.
On similarities he shares with Niedermayer:
Niedermayer – he was great positionally. Something I work really hard at is making sure I’m in the right position before I have to make a play to break up a play. He was great offensively, great on the power play, and that’s someone I definitely want to be like. I think I may play a little more physical than he did, but he didn’t have to play physical because he was so good with his feet and so good with his stick. If I can do the same as he did and not have to play physical, that would be great, but I also enjoy that part of the game, too.
On Chris Chelios, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Monday:
Chelios I didn’t play too much attention to. Darryl, I think he wants me to be the same player Chelios was for him when he had Chelios in Chicago. I’ve seen the way he plays. I didn’t really see many games he played, but I know he’s a gritty guy, but he had all the talent in the world – great offensively, great defensively, and he competed. That’s, I think, one of my best qualities. I hate to lose. I hate to even just lose a little battle, and I’m going to compete to the end. That’s exactly how Darryl wants me to play, too.