Skip to main content
eric duhatschek

Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty was only 20 when he played for Team Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Games.Chris Carlson/The Associated Press

There is a comedy bit they run on the Staples Center videoboard at most Los Angeles Kings games, to provide a glimpse into the players' off-ice lives.

Last week, during a game against the St. Louis Blues, the question was posed: Who, among the Kings, was the team's worst cook?

The responses tumbled out, almost unanimously, all fingering the same culinary culprit: Drew Doughty.

One player ventured, with a smirk: "He'd have trouble making Kraft dinner" and another figured: "Drew might not know where his own kitchen is."

The video then ends with Doughty, informed of the answers, laughing uproariously because, well, it's all true.

Doughty is the best defenceman on what may be the best defensive team in the NHL, the Los Angeles Kings, who are making their first trip to Eastern Canada in more than two years, beginning with Tuesday night's date with the Montreal Canadiens. Since their last visit to a part of the hockey world where so many of them have their roots, the Kings have won a Stanley Cup (in 2012) and made it to the Final Four last year, losing out to the eventual champions, the Chicago Blackhawks ithe Western Conference final.

The Kings were a battered and bruised team in last year's playoffs and according to Anaheim Ducks' coach Bruce Boudreau, probably would have won the Stanley Cup again, if they hadn't been so beat up. Whether that's true or just hyperbole, they are just a flat-out difficult team to play against – heavy and defensively sound.

Even with their all-star starting goaltender Jonathan Quick on injured reserve, they have managed to go 15 consecutive games giving up two or fewer goals in regulation. During that period of time, they've lost just once in regulation – to the Calgary Flames, of all teams – and they've managed to stay competitive in the tough Pacific Division, even after losing Quick and playing without Jeff Carter, their most prolific goal-scorer, for 10 games earlier in the season.

Doughty is one of the primary reasons why they're as good as they are. One could convincingly argue that he is the least-known great Canadian player in the NHL, someone who plays on the U.S. West Coast and is not much given to talk about himself.

Among NHL defencemen, Doughty – who turned 24 this past Sunday – may have the best hockey instincts of any player currently playing the game. He is a hockey savant, who naturally and instinctively plays the game without fear, the only way to have the impact he does. On average, Doughty plays about four minutes more per night than any other member of the Kings and eats up penalty-killing minutes as well as power-play time.

He is a light-hearted personality off the ice, and popular with his teammates because he has a bit of a goofy streak. But on the ice, is all business. Steve Yzerman, Canada's Olympic team GM, saw that early and put him on the Olympic team as a 20-year-old back in 2010 and Doughty rewarded that decision by playing big, effective minutes alongside the Chicago Blackhawks' Duncan Keith. They figure to be the key defence pair again in Sochi, when Canada tries to defend the gold medal they won in Vancouver this coming February.

So who is Drew Doughty really, apart from being a guy who eats out a lot?

"On the ice, his play speaks for itself," said Kings' captain Dustin Brown. "Playing in L.A., I'm not sure people realize how good he is. I mean, he dominates at both ends of the ice and that's probably the difference from some of the defencemen that play in the East. He may not have as many points as some of those guys in the East, but he is a lot harder to play against.

"Off the ice, he's just a big kid. He doesn't have a care in the world and that's part of what makes him so good at hockey. He'll make a mistake and it will roll off his back and he'll be better the next shift. Guys like to razz him here, because he's like a kid, when you argue with him. That's just his personality."

According to former Kings' defenceman Sean O'Donnell, who was Doughty's first defence partner and now works as a television analyst in L.A., "every guy on that team loves Drew. He's probably got the most ability on the team. He's won an Olympic gold medal. He's won a Stanley Cup. He's been a finalist for the Norris Trophy. He would have every reason to have an ego, or whatever, but he doesn't. He's a simple guy. He giggles all the time. He's in a good mood all the time. And the guys like that. He's just genuinely a good guy to the core."

O'Donnell said he knew right away that Doughy had instincts for the game that you cannot teach.

"He had a bunch of raw ability when he came in, but it was raw. He didn't have the structure – and he didn't have to play with structure in junior hockey because he was so good, but I'll tell you, the little things you learn, like cutting the ice in half, or being available for your partner, you just had to tell him one time and he got it right away, and he'd implement it into his game. I'm not saying he's going to win it every time, but he's going to be in the Norris Trophy talk every year now for the next 10 years."

Doughty is playing well enough now to be one of the early contenders for the Norris. What will always hurt him is that the Kings are primarily concerned with playing defence first and for the past two seasons, the award has gone to the highest-scoring NHL defenceman. Doughty has 15 points in 30 games, tied for 19th overall in the defensive scoring race.

"The first thing is always team success, no matter what," said Doughty, in an interview. "If the team is being successful, I have to be a good player for the team and helping out a lot. For us to win games, I have to be at the top of my game. I do feel like I've made strides in my game. I'm playing very, very well right now. Lately, it seems the Norris has just gone to whoever has the most points and playing on this team in L.A., we're not really a goal-scoring team. We don't put up as many points as other teams. Even our top goal scorers aren't close to other team's top goal scorers. So it's a little bit different, but I hope to win it. I really do want to win it one day. I'm just going to keep playing the way I'm playing and if I get noticed, I do."

Now that he's travelling through Eastern Canada, Doughty will be asked the Olympic question a lot. Even though he's a virtual shoo-in to make the team again, he is taking nothing for granted.

"I feel if I just play my game here in L.A. and play the way I know I can and help this team win games, then I'll have a good shot at making the team," he said. "Of course, it's something I want to do. It's unbelievable. To even be mentioned in that group, is crazy. I would love to be on that team, more than anything. I really hope I get that opportunity again."

According to O'Donnell, if Doughty played in a larger market – Toronto or Montreal – he would be a far bigger star than he is now. In Montreal, they talk about PK Subban virtually every day. Surely, they would be talking about Doughty the same way if he played in Toronto or Montreal.

"One hundred per cent," said O'Donnell. "And this is not a knock on PK Subban, because he had a great year last year and put up some unbelievable numbers, but I don't know many GMs that would trade Drew Doughty for PK Subban one-for-one," said O'Donnell. "I wouldn't. The three-hour difference in the time zone really hurts some of the players out here (publicity-wise). Like Anze Kopitar. He should be up for the Selke Trophy every year. I'm not saying every guy on the team should be getting awards, but Kopitar and Doughty are the two guys that come to mind, if they were playing in different markets, whether in Canada or the U.S. East Coast, they'd be garnering a lot more attention than they're getting right now."

As for Doughty, he is particularly looking forward to Wednesday night's date with the Maple Leafs, "the team I grew up watching. To play in that arena is always exciting and I'll have a lot of family and friends there too."

Follow me on Twitter:

Get all the latest Globe and Mail hockey coverage on Twitter: @globehockey