The four most chilling words for a hockey fan aren’t “late 3-1 lead” or “new collective bargaining agreement.” They’re “Drew Doughty is 24.” The reminder that one of the NHL’s most skilled defensemen is such a young pup gives L.A. Kings fans goose bumps and strikes fear into the hearts of everyone else. The guy already has a Stanley Cup ring on his finger, two Olympic golds around his neck, and a successful training camp holdout in his back pocket — and he hasn’t hit car rental age yet.
Doughty was one of five Kings players to score in the surging team’s 5-2 Game 4 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals, and there was something so him about the goal. A rising snap shot from the blue line while balanced basically on one edge? It was like seeing a golfer hole a ball from a sand trap, all nonchalance and trickery. It was Doughty’s third goal of the playoffs. In his last three games, all wins over the Blackhawks, he’s picked up five points.
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The Kings are a team with so many threats that it’s hard to keep track of them all. Doughty’s goal came off an assist from Anze Kopitar, who has been his usual self these playoffs, shutting down everyone’s best players while also contributing, on average, more than a point a game. Trade deadline pickup Marian Gaborik has thrived in an environment where he doesn’t have to be the only offensive force. The line of Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson, and Tyler Toffoli has been such a presence that they’ve earned the nickname “That ’70s Line” from the Kings enthusiasts at The Royal Half. (In L.A., being likened to a bunch of teenage stoners in their parents’ basement is the highest of praise.)
And yet it’s still Doughty who is emerging as a legitimate MVP contender, should the Kings follow through on finishing off the 3-1 lead they’ve built up in this series. He plays a greater percentage of his team’s even-strength minutes than any other defenseman remaining in the postseason, but he’s not just good on the back end. His ability to create and facilitate offense has helped elevate the Kings from a team that just hoped to grab 1-0 wins off the back of Jonathan Quick to one that is apt to go on multiple-goal runs.
In Game 2, it seemed like Doughty would live up to his rough-hewn reputation. The defenseman threw a tantrum after one second-period shift, smashing his stick against the boards. But rather than spiral out of control, he tightened things up. Early in the third period, he assisted Carter on a power-play goal that evened the score at 2-2. The Kings would go on to win the game 6-2 in front of a stunned Chicago crowd, and Doughty would self-deprecatingly admit to ESPN.com’s Craig Custance that he is “a bit of a snap show sometimes.” That may be true, but Doughty has always been a colorful character.
“If he has any say,” began an article in the Montreal Gazette before the NHL draft in 2008, “the man nicknamed Doughnut would love nothing more than the opportunity to hack it in Hollywood.” Around the same time, writer Gare Joyce noted Doughty’s known doughiness and invoked the hefty legend of John Kruk. It wasn’t the most conventional set of scouting reports, but there also aren’t many players quite like the guy.