LOS ANGELES – Last year, Drew Doughty earned a small weekly allowance in junior hockey. This year, the 19-year-old defenceman is a millionaire and a potential 2010 Canadian Olympian.
Talk about culture shock. And of course, with the Los Angeles Kings, he's playing in one of the world's biggest media markets, but also a place where hockey players can wander anywhere from Hollywood to the Santa Monica Pier without being recognized.
Fortunately, this NHL rookie is used to handling any challenges that come his way. Doughty was named Best defenceman and made the Media All-Star Team spot at the 2008 IIHF World Junior Championship. That helped persuade L.A. to choose the Guelph Storm star second overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
“I thought I had a good World Juniors in 2008, and I was on the top D-pairing with a great partner in Karl Alzner, who's been up and down with Washington this year,” Doughty told IIHF.com. “The tournament did help my ranking. I showed the scouts that I knew how to play defence and offense as well.”
One of Doughty's signature moves is the “Savardian spinnerama,” first patented by eight-time Stanley Cup winner and 1972 Summit Series participant Serge Savard of the Montreal Canadiens. On the 2008 World Junior team, Doughty was a teammate of Canadiens prospect PK Subban, who also likes to whirl around unexpectedly. So who's better at spinneramas?
“I don't know,” Doughty said with a laugh. “It's pretty close. I think PK has more chances to do it back in the OHL. Up here, I try not to do it too much, because I don't want to mess up. Hopefully, maybe next year I can do a few more.”
Even though Doughty won't win the 2009 Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie (that honour will almost certainly go to first-year shutout sensation Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets), he has impressed among the small group of 2008 first-rounders who have made the jump directly from junior or European club hockey to the NHL. That group includes budding stars like Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, Atlanta's Zach Bogosian, Toronto's Luke Schenn, and Phoenix's Mikkel Boedker and Viktor Tikhonov.
Using his fluid skating and big point shot to advantage, Doughty has already cracked the 20-point barrier, and logs upwards of 24 minutes a game under L.A. head coach Terry Murray.
“It's awesome,” said Doughty. “Coming in, I didn't really know how much to expect in terms of ice time. I didn't think I would be playing as much as I have. But now that the coaches have showed that confidence in me, it's helping me elevate my game.”
Another big plus is the improved conditioning of the 6'1”, 210-pounder. In 2007-08, Doughty actually played at 235 pounds and didn't have a regular workout routine, still shining due to his talent. A summer of training hard and watching what he ate changed all that, and now his quickness is even more noticeable than before.
“You've just got to continue to work hard,” said Doughty. “In the OHL, you could say it was a little more slack. Off the ice, you didn't hit the gym as much or keep as healthy with your diet. In the NHL, you're playing 20-something more games, and it's a lot more demanding. It hasn't been too tough to adjust in terms of those off-ice elements, though.”
Veteran L.A. teammates have helped him make the transition to the big league, too, including a 37-year-old D-man who recently joined the 1000-game club.
“Sean O'Donnell has helped me a lot as my defence partner all year,” Doughty said. “He's awesome on and off the ice. He talks to me a lot and helps me out with little things that I really wouldn't notice otherwise. Matt Greene helps me a lot too. I ended up getting to live with him in Hermosa Beach, and he's taken me under his wing in that regard. On the ice, he helps me out a lot too as a guy who's been in the league for a few years.”
The biggest compliment of all for Doughty came when Team Canada Executive Director Steve Yzerman mentioned his name as a potential youthful addition to the host country's roster for the 2010 Olympics during a February conference call with reporters.
“It was unbelievable,” Doughty admitted. “Growing up, Steve Yzerman was one of my favourite players. I loved the way he played. Just to be mentioned when there are so many great Canadian D-men was unbelievable. To get that opportunity would be a dream come true.”
Team Canada will face enormous pressure as it strives to regain golden supremacy on home ice after the seventh-place disaster at the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy. But if Doughty makes the final cut (admittedly a long shot), at least he's gained some valuable experience about handling adversity in international hockey from his '08 gold medal run at the World Juniors.
First, Canada dropped a round-robin match against the Swedes, marking its first defeat at the tournament since 2004, and then surrendered a late tying goal to Tre Kronor in the championship game before prevailing in overtime, thanks to Matt Halischuk's heroics.
“You've got to learn from your mistakes in a tournament like that,” Doughty said. “We had that big Canadian gold streak going there, and it was almost a good thing that we lost the first game against the Swedes. If we hadn't lost there, maybe we would have gone into the other games too cocky and lost one of the elimination games. Instead, we learned what we needed to do and we won the gold medal.”
This year, the youthful Kings are on the outside looking in for the Western Conference playoff race, and that could open the door for Doughty to suit up at the 2009 IIHF World Championship in Switzerland if he gets the call from the Team Canada braintrust. How about it?
“Right now, my main focus is making the playoffs with the Kings, but for sure,” Doughty said. “I always love playing for my country. Playing for Canada is such an honour.”
Aykroyd is the IIHF.com's correspondent in Vancouver, Canada, the site of the XXI Olympic Winter Games in 2010.