No one has ever questioned Drew Doughty skill level. Only Steve Stamkos was drafted higher in 2008, and even questioned that move. But the one knock against him since his days in junior has been his compete and conditioning level. The nickname "Doughnuts" is not exactly flattering to a player with out of this world talent.
But when he broke into the league as an 18-year old, we quickly forgot about the relaxed character and what he tipped in at. Doughty was marketed as a franchise blueliner, and he got off on the right foot by playing every game of his rookie season save one. He did not quite shatter the thirty point barrier as a rook, but his low shooting percentage and poise on the ice made it clear that he was here to stay.
While many players go through the cliche sophomore slump, Doughty took his game in the opposite direction, and the world noticed. He came out on fire early in the season, and it was clear that the youngster was going to make a run at Team Canada for the 2010 Olympic team. Few could have imagined such a young player not only making the jump to the pros at such a young age, but being amongst those considered for the most powerful international team in the world.
But despite Mike Green scoring at a record pace for a d-man, Steve Yzerman and co. make the decision that Doughty would be amongst those to don the maple leaf in Vancouver and represent Canada. He was viewed as a 6/7 blueliner coming into the tournament, but the time all was said and done, Doughty was logging top pairing minutes and shutting down opposing stars. Quite the feat for a 20-year old playing amongst the best players in the world in a situation most would describe as intense.
Even though he grinded out the entire Olympics and helped lead Canada to gold, he was not about to take it easy for the rest of the season. He finished third amonst defensemen in scoring with 59 points, but most impressively he turned around his -17 as a rookie to a +20 in his second season. The youngster was doing it all; throwing his body around, blocking shots and leading the man advantage for the Kings. Not bad for Doughnuts.
The following season was his junior jinx if you may. After riding high for more than 100 games in his second season, a small step back was taken in his third year, but there was little reason for worry after a borderline Norris worthy season. The one thing that the Kings did need to take into consideration during his third season was his contractural status. Playing in the third year of his rookie pact, it was clear that he was going to demand a serious raise. With superagent Don Meehan as his representation, Lombardi and the rest of the Kings brass should have considered sitting down at the table sooner rather than later.
But after wrapping up third season in which he was slowed out of the gate by injury, but still managed to tally 40 points, Doughty made it clear that he wanted to paid amongst the elite d-men in the league. He was restricted that summer, but after the Lowe-Burke barnmatch, it was clear that no one was about to offer up the kitchen sink to swoop in and steal Drew from LA. So it was going to come down to finances and term.
Lombardi was not interested in offering up a contract that exceeded five-years, and the dollar value was expected to be closer to the Yandle 5-per range than the Shea Weber 7.5 arbitration award. But midway through the summer there was no contract to be seen. It seemed as if the now 21-year old was in no rush to get pen to paper either. He knew how valuable he was to the team, and how they could not afford to walk away from the table. So he and Meehan waited, and waited.
He missed the first thirteen days of training camp this season with the Kings, and who knows how much time he put in at the gym during the summer. It it tough to imagine that his effort level was through the roof while waiting to get paid. But finally just before the Kings were set to embark on their European start to the season, an agreement was reached that was much to Doughty's liking. 8-year, $56 million - which breaks down to $7 million per season through 2019.
But after missing the majority of camp and having likely downed a Big-Mac or two during the summer, it was clear from early in the season that he was a step behind. It is next to impossible to play catch up during the season, and his 36-point effort this year proved that he was not quite ready from day one.
However, the Kings made their way into the postseason, armed with a plethora of weapons, and they have been making quick work of their opponents from the start of the playoffs. The top two teams in the Western Conference, the 'Nucks and the Blues, had no chance against them, and the man on the point was much to thank. He is back to playing nearly half the game, getting in front of pucks and dishing the doughnut filled body for all to feel.
After a rocky offseason that surely ruffled a few feathers in management, and a rough season after the deal was signed, this is now the chance to Dought to redeem himself. His Kings are just one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals, and they are breezing through their competition. They need to finish off the Coyotes, then on to the Devils of the Rangers, neither insurmountable for the red-hot team.
Doughty has a good chance to add a ring to his gold medal, and next year we will likely be reminded why the Kings made him one of the highest paid d-men in the league. The talent has never been a question, now it is time for his effort to catch up and pay dividends.