Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty has started to earn his huge long-term contract following a phenomenal performance in the team's Stanley Cup title run during last year's playoffs. However, the beginning of his first season as a high-paid star didn't get off to a great start.
Doughty scored just two points in October of last season, and racked up just five points in November, all of which came in three straight games. It was a terrible start for the young defenseman after it took many months to finalize his eight-year, $56 million contract.
A breakout 2009-10 season vaulted expectations of Doughty to new and maybe unfair levels, but after seeing his points totals drop for two consecutive years, fans had every right to question his potential.
His new contract was not a popular one in Los Angeles after a lackluster 2010-11 regular season and playoff performance made Kings fans rethink how good of a player Doughty would be going forward.
Once the Kings began their playoff run, the team was bolstered by Doughty's rise in production at both ends of the ice. Doughty scored 16 points in 20 playoff games, including six points in six Stanley Cup Final games against the New Jersey Devils, as well as an important goal in the series-clinching Game 5 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes.
His performance in the playoffs proved why Doughty is one of the elite offensive defensemen in the NHL. His offensive talents are spectacular, and his puck-moving ability is a real asset to the Kings power play.
What wasn't talked about enough during the playoffs was Doughty's defensive performance. His physical play and ability to limit opposing teams' best goal scorers was a crucial part in the Kings' success last spring.
Doughty's play in the Kings' championship run has raised expectations of him going into the 2012-13 season, and it has also allowed him to climb back up certain rankings, including ESPN Insider Neil Greenberg's list (note: article behind paywall) of the top NHL players under 25 years old.
His career is back on track, and he looked like a much more relaxed player during the playoffs than he was for most of the regular season. After hoisting the Stanley Cup, don't think success is going to halt Doughty's progress as his career moves forward.
At only 22 years old, Doughty is one of the best young stars in the NHL, but he still is motivated to prove that he can play as well as he did in the 2012 playoffs for a full season.
Consistency is now his primary objective over the next few years, and winning a championship will give Doughty the confidence needed to reach this goal.
Doughty is starting to earn his high salary, but he must continue to improve at both ends of the ice. Outside of goaltender Jonathan Quick, he's the most important player on the Kings' Stanley Cup defense.
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