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Heavy workload doesn't affect Kings defenseman Drew Doughty

He averaged 26 minutes of playing time during the regular season, fourth-most in the NHL, and is not slowing down in the playoffs. 'I can keep up with it,' he says about the Western Conference semifinal series with the San Jose Sharks.

May 16, 2013|By David Wharton

The Kings recently had a day off, a brief respite from the otherwise hectic postseason, with coaches holding an abbreviated morning skate for a dozen or so players.

Drew Doughty chose to skip practice, hanging around the locker room, playing ping-pong with teammate Slava Voynov.

"It's good to have a break," he said. "Make sure to get some rest."

The defenseman has earned it.

During the regular season, Doughty ranked among the NHL's hardest-working players, averaging more than 26 minutes on the ice, fourth-most in the league.

The playoffs have brought even more hard labor, his workload jumping to 28 minutes. In Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal series with the San Jose Sharks, he skated 33 shifts, more than anyone else on either team.

"I can keep up with it," he said. "I did it all season."

The Kings need the extra minutes to fill a void left by injuries. Willie Mitchell has been out all season because of multiple knee surgeries and Matt Greene has yet to fully return from an injured back and other ailments.

Just as important, Doughty brings a particular skill set that could prove crucial against San Jose.

"He can skate it out and create some offense," said Sharks forward Logan Couture, who has known Doughty since they were kids. "He's tough to defend."

But all that ice time raises concerns about durability. This is, after all, a player who has faced questions about fitness.

It wasn't so long ago that Doughty struggled with weight problems and, as a corporate endorser for McDonald's, joked about his reluctance to give up fast food.

Last season, he began to show more resiliency, playing about 25 minutes per game. Then came a prolonged off-season with players waiting around for the league to sort out its labor problems.

"The tough thing was going to the gym and getting on the ice every day not really knowing when you could start playing," he said. "You lose that drive a little bit."

He also dealt with allegations of sexual assault over the summer. Los Angeles County prosecutors declined to file charges, citing insufficient evidence.

Doughty, 23, insists that he has become more disciplined in his life away from hockey. But when he claims to have shown up for this season in the best shape of his life, the comment draws a smirk from a nearby teammate.

"He's only kidding," Doughty said. "I hope."

The last few months have been tough on everyone, a compacted regular-season schedule with little time to rest. For Doughty, it was a mixed bag.

The media focused on a scoring drought early on, much to his irritation. He seemed to be pressing as the weeks went by.

The absence of Mitchell and Greene, both stay-at-home defenders, took a toll. The offense-minded Doughty was forced to shoulder more of the burden in his own zone and take a larger role on the penalty kill.

Meanwhile, fellow defensemen Voynov and Jake Muzzin stepped up on offense.

Ultimately, Doughty believes his added responsibilities helped make him sharper and, toward the end of the season, brought his offensive game back in line.

Shots began finding the net and, just as important, he received assistance from a trade-deadline deal that brought Robyn Regehr from Buffalo. The men knew each other from the Canadian national team and possessed complementary styles.

"Reg is a good defensive guy and I'm more of an offensive guy," Doughty said. "When I need to get up in the play or join the rush, he's always back there to help me out."

Regehr, 33, has been impressed.

"He's got the ability to play a ton of minutes out there, the way he can skate and move the puck," the veteran said. "And probably the most important thing that says the most about a player is he plays all situations."

In a grueling first-round series against the St. Louis Blues, marked by tightly contested games, Doughty recorded a goal and two assists. He logged 33 minutes in a Game 5 overtime victory, then scored in Game 6 with a nifty fake and a wrist shot.

San Jose came into this series fully aware of the need to limit such chances. Coach Todd McLellan talked about Doughty's ability to escape the forecheck.

"He has those skills, the evasive skills," McLellan said. "If you're over-aggressive on him, running just to make contact, he's skilled enough to roll off of that and get going the other way."

As the series resumes with Game 2 at Staples Center on Thursday night, the Sharks will continue to look for ways to stop Doughty from rushing up-ice. His teammates say they will rely on his vision and instincts — knowing where to be on the ice — to help contain San Jose's crisp power play.

"He's got a complete game," Regehr said. "And there's a lot of responsibility on him for that."

Sounds like another long day at work.

david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

Times staff writer Helene Elliott contributed to this report.

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