Why Los Angeles Kings' Drew Doughty Is Clearly on His Way to Elite D-Man Status

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistAugust 27, 2012

Drew Doughty can carry the puck out of tight quarters.
Drew Doughty can carry the puck out of tight quarters.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Kings had no doubts about Drew Doughty at the start of the 2011-12 season.

They may have engaged Doughty in a difficult set of contract negotiations, but they ultimately signed him to a $56-million deal that left no doubt about his status with the Kings.

He was clearly the best defenseman on a team capable of contending for the Stanley Cup.

The Kings ultimately did a lot more than contend for the Cup. They won it in convincing fashion and Doughty was one of the key contributors. He scored 16 points during the Kings' 20 Stanley Cup playoff games and included in that point total was a league-high 12 assists.

Doughty did not start the season like he was deserving of his new contract. The consistency factor was missing from his game, and it showed in his production numbers. Doughty had just 36 points during the regular season, as he was minus-2 during his 77 games. He had been plus-13 in 2010-11 and plus-20 the previous season.

However, while his numbers were not up to his expectations, Doughty's effort was not lacking. When the Kings started their postseason run, Doughty was a rock on defense and he was often involved in the middle of the team's offensive production.

Kings head coach Darryl Sutter saw that Doughty was contributing all over the ice and was not just a one-dimensional player. That's what Sutter had been preaching after taking over behind the Kings' bench last season and he like what he got from Doughty.

“You have to be well-rounded in all areas and not just a specialist,” Sutter told CBC.ca. “You have to be able to see yourself in all those situations, and when he does that, he’s pretty good.”

While that may sound like a lukewarm compliment, it's high praise when it comes out of the mouth of the hard-to-please and often disagreeable Sutter.

Doughty certainly understands the big picture. It's not enough for him to thump an offensive player in the corner or block a shot. He understands it's the transition game that can propel his team forward and get his teammates into the offensive zone.

As a result, Doughty will thump that body in the corner, get control of the puck, carry it up ice and make an accurate pass to a teammate like Dustin Brown or Anze Kopitar.

Much has been expected of Doughty since the Kings made him the No. 2 pick overall in the 2008 draft. It all came together for him during last year's Stanley Cup playoffs.

Brown, his roommate when the Kings are on the road, said Doughty found a way to raise his level when expectations were at their highest.

“I think he’s had to do what most young players don’t, and that’s grow under the spotlight,” Brown said to CBC.ca. “Most guys spend a few years in the minors and come up, and he’s been in the spotlight ever since he’s been here. He has handled it pretty well. Part of that’s just the type of person he is, and part of it’s just the type of guys we have in that room, collectively pushing him in the right direction."

At the ripe old age of 22, Doughty has been on the Canadian Olympic gold medal winning team, won a Stanley Cup, made the NHL's all-rookie team in 2008-09 and been a second-team all-star in 2009-10.

Those achievements have earned a spot for him on the list of the NHL's elite defensemen. The retirement of Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom combined with his role on a Stanley Cup winning team just may give him the impetus he needs to become the lead name on a group of defensemen that includes Zdeno Chara, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Erik Karlsson.

There's no reason to doubt him at this point.