Name: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Height/Weight: 6 feet, 212 pounds.
Seasons with the Kings: 4
What’s his role? Doughty might be the most skilled player on the team. The Kings count on him for defense, of course, but he’s as much of a weapon on offense as any of the forwards. He’s a player who can rub an opponent off the puck in his own end, then snap a perfect clearing pass to a teammate 60 feet away. He can carry the puck into the neutral zone with speed, then use his powerful skating ability to weave through defenders and quick hands to get off a well-placed wrist shot. He hasn’t come close to matching his 16-goal, 59-point season from two years ago, and maybe never will, but he’s still better than 90 percent of the defensemen in the NHL.
What has he done lately? Doughty has been one of the keys in L.A.’s deep playoff run. He’s been especially strong in the three series-clinching victories, contributing a goal and three assists with a plus-5 rating. He made a smooth move to get below the goal line in Game 5 of the Vancouver series and made a perfect pass to Brad Richardson for the tying goal, allowing the Kings to clinch the opening-round series in overtime. He had a goal and two assists in Game 3 of the second-round series against the St. Louis Blues, his first three-point game of the season, then assisted on Dustin Brown’s game winner in Game 4 to complete the sweep. In Game 5 of the Western Conference final against the Phoenix Coyotes, he had a goal and an assist in the series-clinching overtime victory.
Where you’ll find him on the ice? Paired with Rob Scuderi on defense, Doughty spends most of the time defending his own net from the right side of the ice. When he sees daylight, however, he’ll make a push toward the opponent’s end, usually right up the gut. He sometimes gets in trouble when he ventures too deep and turns the puck over, but more often than not he makes the right decision. On the power play, Doughty mans the blue line, looking for a crack in the defense so he can slip the puck through with his thunderous slap shot.
What he does best? Nobody changes from defense to offense swifter than Doughty. He’s quick to recognize opportunities to join the rush, and confident enough to start one on his own. As one of the best skaters on the team, Doughty is very elusive with the puck, a skill set rarely seen in a young defenseman. Having him on the ice is like having a fourth forward.
Another comparable athlete? Like Doughty, Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays was a top-three draft pick who made his pro debut in 2008. Both set the bar very high early in their careers, producing their best offensive seasons in their sophomore years. Longoria is also similar to Doughty in that he's just as good on defense, winning Gold Gloves in 2009 and 2010. Attaining greatness so early can lead to lofty expectations, however. When they’ve failed to reach that bar in ensuing years, they've left the door wide open for criticism.