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Higher education

Though only 19, Kings rookie defenseman Drew Doughty is living up to lofty expectations through his teammates' help.

December 26, 2008|Chris Foster

Drew Doughty's life is color-coordinated.

Greene, he's at home.

Brown, he's on the road.

That is how the Kings have structured things for Doughty, hoping that by keeping things simple off the ice for the 19-year-old defenseman he can continue to make life difficult for opposing teams on it.

Doughty, the second overall pick in June, walked out of the Ontario Hockey League in spring and into the Kings' lineup in fall. He logs 25 minutes a game, showing sleight-of-hand skills handling the puck and a he-shoots-he-scores ability from the blue line.

Such a package needed to be handled with care. Where to store him away from the rink was easy. You can even set it to music.

The "I Love L.A." life is handled by defenseman Matt Greene, who was asked to take in Doughty at his Hermosa Beach residence. The "On the Road Again" chore is handled by Dustin Brown, who rooms with Doughty on trips.

It's a tag-team big brother setup that strays into parenting at times.

Said Brown: "He sleeps for hours. I have to make sure he gets out of bed and gets to the rink on time."

Said Greene: "I have a five-second buffer that I employ with him. Just think before you talk."

Doughty, though, seems worth the effort, which has been clear a number of times this season.

"[Colorado's] Ryan Smith turned Drew inside out one game, scoring a goal that made him look bad," Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said. "You see that happen to young defensemen and they go into a shell. Not Drew. He came right back, took the puck through the neutral zone, and got that goal back. That showed me that he is not only a top player, he's a winner."

Few doubted that.

Doughty was considered a gem in a jewel-encrusted draft. After one junior game, where Doughty carried the puck from his own end, through five defenders, to score the winning goal with 15 seconds left, an NHL scout called it "shades of Bobby Orr."

Comparisons continue. Following the draft, Lombardi used the names Ray Bourque, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, all in one quote, to describe Doughty.

Said Doughty: "I love all the accolades I have been given. I just don't think about them. I can't. I mean, I could be sent back to junior hockey any time. The way I look at it, I have to earn my job here every day."

That has been his nature since he was a kid shooting hockey pucks and tennis balls against the wall in the basement of his parents' home in London, Canada. "After a while, they got me a net and I was off," he said.

Doughty developed into a top junior player but didn't rest on his reputation. There were concerns about his weight. So Doughty shed 25 pounds and by the time the draft rolled around, E.J. McGuire, the NHL's director of central scouting, said, "This is a defenseman around which a team is going to build for the next 10 years."

Center Steven Stamkos was a lock as the No. 1 pick for Tampa Bay, but there were differing opinions about who should go second, Doughty or defenseman Zach Bogosian.

After several interviews, Lombardi was sold on Doughty. "The night before the draft, I called him and said, 'This organization hasn't won a Cup in its 40 years, why should I trust you?' " Lombardi said. "I liked his answer."

Which was?

"We'll keep that to ourselves for now," Lombardi said.

Still, as mature as Doughty seems, there are constant reminders of his age, warnings for everyone around him to take it slow.

Doughty is locked and loaded into video games away from the ice, including NHL '09, a game that features him as a player. He talks in a lingo reserved for the young . . . the really young.

Sean O'Donnell, who sits on one side of Doughty, is 37. But even Brown, who is only 24, has trouble relating.

"Not many guys come into this league with the poise he has on the ice," Brown said.

And off it?

"There are just these random chirps that don't make any sense," Brown said, laughing.

"When you're joking around, his big comeback is, 'You're stupid.' It's like 10-year-old humor."

How to best mold an adolescent mind was the question once Doughty showed that he was ready to make the jump to the NHL during training camp.

Greene, 25, was mentored in Edmonton as a rookie by Jason Smith. He lived with Smith's family and said, "I wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for them. Jason made it real easy for me to adjust. I can do the same for Drew."

Greene said that "the game is the same, but your life is completely different. Where do you buy a suit? How to go about banking? You're just not going to come home and there will be food on the table. You got to know how to take care of yourself."

Said Doughty: "Matt makes me relax."

Brown was equally as good a choice. Like Doughty, Brown was an 18-year-old kid dropped into an NHL dressing room. Brown felt isolated and alone at times. He makes sure times have changed.

"If guys were quiet, not talking to me, I definitely would feel uncomfortable," Doughty said. "But guys joke around and give it to me because I'm the youngest. I think I answer to about 10 nicknames around the room."

"Dewy" is the one that is sticking. "Dumb Dumb," Doughty said, has gone away, "thankfully."

The one place Doughty doesn't look like a kid is on the ice. That was never so clear than on Nov. 20 against the Washington Capitals.

Alex Ovechkin was the hype coming into the game, as the Capitals forward was on one of his flame-intense hot streaks with six goals and 14 points in five games. Doughty was matched against him, and Ovechkin walked away without a goal in a 5-2 Kings victory.

At one point, Ovechkin tried to bull his way to the net and Doughty just rode him out of the play.

"You know, back in Ontario you can drink when you're 19," Doughty said. "Here it's 21. So all my buddies are going out and stuff and they tell me about it. It sounds fun, but obviously I wouldn't trade that life for the one I have right now."

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chris.foster@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Drew Doughty

*--* GP G A PTS +/- PIM SOG 34 3 9 12 -4 26 54 *--*

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Tonight

KINGS VS.

PHOENIX

at Staples Center,

7:30, FS West

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