At the end of the 2007-2008 season the L.A. Kings ended up in a tie for last place in the league. As always, there was a lottery for who would gain the first overall pick. Like any sport the first overall pick is coveted and generally for a good reason.
In the NHL, specifically, holding the top overall pick allows a team to draft someone with the likes of Ovechkin, Crosby or some other can’t-miss prospect.
This year was no exception; the top of the talent pool was Steven Stamkos. The Kings and their fans salivated at getting Stamkos.
But the Kings lost out on the lottery and the chance to draft Stamkos.
After Stamkos there were two options, both defensemen: Drew Doughty and Zach Bogosian. Both players had tremendous upside but neither was a sure-fire can’t-miss.
Defense is a little more difficult position to predict. Generally there’s a bigger jump from juniors to the NHL. The maturation process takes a bit longer. Rarely will defensive player come straight to the NHL the first year eligible and be successful.
According to most scouts a coin flip would have been an adequate way to decide between Doughty and Bogosian. They were that close.
On the night of the draft some additional information came out that most people were not aware of previously.
Drew Doughty was an LA Kings fan.
Most professional athletes grow up watching the sport that they play. Most of them grow up following a particular team. Most, however, don’t get the chance to join the team they love when they become professionals themselves.
In the case of Drew Doughty, this may be what helped make the decision to take him.
In September of 2008, training camp began for the 2008-2009 season. Drew came into camp and wowed the coaching staff. Apparently he was determined to prove they made the right decision in drafting him.
He played so well that when it came time for roster decisions, there was no way the Kings could send him back to juniors. He was up with the Kings, and not for a stint, for good.
Throughout his rookie season Drew did some of the things that comes along with being a rookie.
But he also led the team in Ice Time— very uncharacteristic of rookie defenseman. He also was a front runner for the Calder Trophy. That’s the trophy awarded to the most outstanding rookie.
Ultimately he didn’t win the award. But the fact he was in the running, considering he was an 18-19-year-old rookie coming straight to the NHL, is simply amazing.
As a non-red shirt rookie, Drew Doughty produced some outstanding results. He played 81 games. He scored six goals and had 21 assists, giving him a point total of 27.
Expectations are high for the L.A. Kings in 2009-2010. And they are even higher for Drew Doughty. There were whispers of a sophomore slump. Is it possible to live up to expectations, in a town like Los Angeles?
It’s December 4, 2009. The Kings have played 29 games so far. They have 36 points and are in the race for a playoff spot. Unlike last year they are winning close games. They are physical, fast, and skilled. They are also young— the second youngest team in the NHL.
Drew Doughty, where’s he at? Is he slumping? Is he fading into just another NHL player? Is he crumbling under the weight of the expectations? Is he sitting back on what he has already accomplished?
Drew is where he belongs. He is on the Blue line of the Los Angeles Kings. Sophomore slump, nope. Twenty-nine games in, he has seven goals to go along with 21 assists.
Drew has more confidence with the puck. What did he do in the offseason? He changed the pattern of his stick and focused on his shot.
Drew has developed a wicked shot to the point that goal tenders seem unable to stop it. He’s logging less ice time than last year but seems to be in better shape and have more jump in his step.
Drew was already one of the better skating defenseman in the NHL, he’s improved on that. He has developed more confidence with the puck. He does things that make even casual observers shake their heads.
Any mistakes Drew made which were labeled rookie mistakes have been eliminated. Along with all of his ability, his hockey smarts are off the chart. People say the game slows down for the great players. Like a great chess player, he seems to see things develop ahead of time.
It’s hard to think Drew’s going to get better. It’s almost harder to think based on the work ethic and commitment he’s displayed so far that he will not.
At this point it’s not a matter of when he will win the Norris trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman, but more about how many he will win.
When Drew was drafted it seemed like a consolation prize. Now it seems like the Kings made out like bandits.
In the not too distant future there’s a lot of belief the Kings will challenge for a Stanley Cup. When that day comes look back at the player taken second in 2008. As far as building blocks go, Doughty is one heck of a rock on a solid young foundation bringing the Kings back to prominence in the NHL.
If you are in L.A. and want to see a star, look no further then 111 S. Figueroa Street in Los Angeles. That’s the address of the Staples Center. Pay attention to when No. 8 in Purple and Black is on the ice. You are viewing greatness.