Kings defenseman Drew Doughty celebrates after scoring a goal against… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
For Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, this season is all about making the right decisions.
He seems to be off to a good start. Doughty, prone to weight problems, stayed in shape during the NHL lockout by working with a trainer and practicing with the junior team near his home in London, Canada. Gearing up for the opening of training camp Sunday and launching the 48-game season next Saturday, Doughty pronounced himself pleased with his fitness after he joined teammates for an informal workout in El Segundo.
"I probably weigh about 205 right now, which is a little bit down from what it was last year, so I'm feeling good," he said Friday. "This week is going to be important for everyone to get in shape and get back into game form, so we're all looking forward to it."
The most important choices for Doughty's life and career are still ahead.
He has the skating ability, vision, shot, and defensive instincts to take a stranglehold on the Norris Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL's top defenseman, and he finished third in voting for the 2009-10 season. Doughty, 23, acknowledged he hasn't consistently maintained that level of performance but said he's committed to getting back and staying there.
"It's one of my dreams to do that," he said of winning the Norris. "I was close a couple years back and I felt like my regular seasons haven't lived up to that. So this year's going to be a big one for me, I hope."
He has also discovered the importance of making the right decisions outside of hockey, no small matter.
Doughty was accused of sexually assaulting a 25-year-old woman last March 1, an allegation that became public shortly after the Kings won the Stanley Cup in June. Los Angeles County prosecutors declined to file charges, citing insufficient evidence, but Doughty said the incident affected him.
"I've definitely learned to make wiser choices, but at the same time the whole situation was kind of out of my hands. It's over with now and I've learned from it."
When he's willing to listen and learn, he has shown what a brilliant player he can be.
Although he clashed early last season with assistant coach John Stevens, who guides the Kings' defensemen, they developed a solid working relationship after Doughty realized Stevens was offering constructive criticism, not picking on him. The team's coaching change from Terry Murray to Darryl Sutter — and Sutter's decision to reunite Doughty with defensive stalwart Rob Scuderi — also proved immensely positive for Doughty, who had struggled to shake off the effects of a concussion he suffered in October, 2011.
"My whole game turned around when Darryl came in. I started playing a lot better," Doughty said. "They put me back with Scuds, who I've been comfortable with for a few years now. I think when that happened, my season started to turn around and I started to play like I know I can."
That became evident in the playoffs, when he contributed four goals, 16 points and a plus-11 rating to the Kings' Cup drive.
He surely looked like a Norris Trophy winner then.
"I think he's always been capable of that, ever since he was nominated for it a couple of years ago," captain Dustin Brown said. "It's just, for him, I think it's important that he just focuses on his whole game.
"Sometimes he's playing real good hockey and he gets frustrated because he's not getting points. And I understand that, but he plays against the top teams' top-line guy. He's our No. 1 defenseman. He brings a lot more to the table than just getting points and that sort of thing. He has a pretty complete game. He has to just really focus on having it every night."
If Doughty can elevate his game, the Kings should have a better chance of getting home-ice advantage in the playoffs instead of entering as the No. 8-seeded team. They have the depth to withstand losing center Anze Kopitar to a sprained knee for what is likely to be a two-to-three-week recovery, and Doughty said General Manager Dean Lombardi's skill in keeping the Cup-winning roster together means players don't have to waste time getting to know each other and can get right to business.
"It's in our hands now," Doughty said. "We're determined to win it again, of course, and we have the team to do it. We've just got to be mentally and physically prepared."
The status of defenseman Willie Mitchell, who team officials had said "tweaked" his knee during the lockout, remained unclear Friday. Lombardi said he understood the injury to be an impingement, or pinching, and is not a ligament injury. More information might be available after the lockout officially ends — which is expected Saturday — and teams can have extensive contact with players.