Could Drew Doughty of the LA Kings Be the NHL's Best Defenseman?
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When a team wins the Stanley Cup, there is a tendency to glorify its key players.
Jonathan Quick backstopped the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup. He was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player in the postseason and his brilliant and consistent performance had much to do with the Kings' run through four playoff opponents.
The Kings also got a lift from offensive players like Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. The team that struggled to score during the regular season found a way to put the puck in the net regularly during the playoffs—especially in clutch situations.
The Kings' defense does not have to take a backseat to any area on the team. Specifically, defenseman Drew Doughty stepped up as much as any player in the league during the postseason. He was rock solid with his overall defense, puck carrying and ability to take a hit and still make a play.
Doughty impressed St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock when the two teams met in the second round of the playoffs. "I think the biggest thing that he does is absorb checks, gets the puck out on his own," Hitchcock told Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times.
"That's what he [Doughty] does. You think you’ve got him. He pulls away on you. You think you’ve got him pinned on the boards, he pulls it off the boards and makes the play."
Doughty also has the hard shot and the offensive skills to play a well-rounded game on the blue line. However, to be considered among the best defensemen and then to rise to the level of the No. 1 defenseman, Doughty has to improve during the regular season.
Doughty found his name in the headlines shortly after the Kings' Stanley Cup title for the wrong reasons, but sexual assault charges against him were not filed after prosecutors failed to find enough evidence against him (source: KTLA.com).
If Doughty is going to use his 2012 postseason as a jumping off point for a run at the league's best defenseman title, his timing appears to be superb.
Start off with the reality that Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nick Lidstrom has retired. Throughout his career, Lidstrom was the standard by which all other defensemen were rated. He was the best in the league for the majority of his career and he was probably the second best defenseman of the last 50 years, ranking just behind legendary Hall of Famer Bobby Orr.
With Lidstrom hanging up his skates, that leaves Boston's Zdeno Chara, Nashville's Shea Weber and Ottawa's Erik Karlsson as the top defensemen in the league. Karlsson is the reigning Norris Trophy winner, based largely on his spectacular offensive play. He had 19 goals and 59 assists last season and also finished with a plus-19 rating.
Karlsson is much better offensively than he is defensively, but you can't make that assessment when considering Chara and Weber.
Chara is 6'9", 265-pound behemoth who uses his size and strength to punish offensive players who try to challenge him. Chara is also a solid offensive player who has the hardest shot in the game. He had 12 goals and 40 assists while finishing plus-33 last year.
Weber is not as intimidating as Chara because he's merely 6'4" and 234 pounds, but he is a powerful hitter with a nasty streak. Weber regularly finishes second to Chara when it comes to shooting velocity at the league's annual All-Star skills competition.
Will Drew Doughty be the NHL's defenseman in 2012-13?
However, he's probably a better offensive player than Chara because he can get his shot away faster and is somewhat more accurate with it than the Bruins' stalwart blueliner. Weber had 19 goals and 30 assists for the Preds last season and finished with a plus-21 rating.
Doughty has quite a distance to go to catch that trio. He scored 10 goals and 26 assists last season and was only a minus-2 on the plus-minus chart.
Doughty upgraded his stats significantly in the postseason with 4 games and 12 assists, and he was plus-11.
That postseason run indicates the type of play that Doughty is capable of producing. Now all he has to do is go out and prove it for a full season.
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