Drew Doughty has been an all-star-calibre defenceman in the modern NHL for going on 12 seasons now.
Frankly, he would probably have been a big success in any era. His reckless abandon and abrasive attitude are a throwback to another time.
One look at his battle-scarred face, complete with a number of missing teeth and a sizable cut on his left cheek courtesy of Saturday’s late-game donnybrook with Calgary Flames agitator Matthew Tkachuk, speaks volumes.
The 29-year-old Los Angeles Kings stalwart from London, Ont., even admits to holding grudges. His ongoing feud with Tkachuk is the most public example, but Doughty is always looking for ways to motivate himself every time he takes to the ice.
So, why aren’t there more rivalries to stoke fan interest?
“There are,” Doughty told reporters before Tuesday’s game between the Kings and Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place. “We just don’t like to talk to you guys about it that much… Every single team I play, I make a rivalry on that team. A personal rivalry happens a lot more than you guys are aware of.”
Even the Jets, a club the Kings face only twice during the regular season, have players who can get Doughty’s blood boiling.
“Obviously, I’ve gotta play (Blake) Wheeler and (Mark) Scheifele hard,” Doughty said. “I respect their games, I respect them off the ice. But when it comes to playing them, I’ve gotta play them hard and I’ll do whatever it takes to beat them. I maybe don’t have a huge rivalry with them but I’m excited to play against them…
“They create a huge challenge for me and my D partner, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Kings head coach Todd McLellan, who’s been on the job for five weeks, said Doughty’s performance speaks for itself.
“Well, Drew’s played pretty well for us,” McLellan said. “I don’t know if he’s had a rivalry on every team, but most nights he’s been a real good player for us. I think this stems from the team we just played in Calgary and the question has come up, time and time again. But if he doesn’t have a rival, I still expect him to be a Norris Trophy candidate night in, night out and he’s been that.
“He’s been tremendous. We expect him to continue to do that. Different things get different individuals excited or motivated, and if that works for Drew, then great.”
Jets head coach Paul Maurice enjoys the theatre these personal rivalries generate.
“(It’s) really good for hockey,” Maurice said. “I don’t know much about it because I never watch a game with the volume up… But all those rivalries are really good… That’s why I love the back-to-back, home-and-home games. It’s a mini playoff series, it’s as close as you get. There is some anger that always spills over. Who ever loses (the first game) always wants to come back and make amends. I love when it happens.”
The Kings, who entered Tuesday’s game with a 3-5-0 record, are in full rebuild mode after a 30th-place finish cost John Stevens and his replacement, Willie Desjardins, their jobs in 2018-19.
“We’re not a team that’s gonna live off skill and offence,” Doughty said. “We’re a team that’s gonna rely on good defence, getting pucks in deep, being good on the forecheck and just shooting the puck at the net. We’re not a team that’s dangling guys or making all these seam plays and pretty goals.
“We just stick to the basics. We get the puck to the net, crash the net hard, and when we do those things, we’re a pretty good team. But when we try to play the way other teams do, they beat us at that game.”
Correcting bad habits and encouraging better work habits, Doughty said, is one of McLellan’s strengths.
“He’s not afraid to bench guys if they’re not playing the right way. (If) they’re not playing the right system, he’s gonna get on you. He’s uses us older, more established guys as examples on video all the time. Showing the young guys no one is getting away with making mistakes. If you’re making mistakes, you’re just not going to play and you’re gonna get into s—t.”
Mark Letestu is currently on Winnipeg’s injured-reserve list with an undisclosed injury. But McLellan, who coached the now 34-year-old for three seasons in Edmonton, is a big fan of the journeyman centre.
“It doesn’t surprise me he’s found his way back to the NHL,” McLellan said. “If I was to pick an individual — I don’t know if he has any interest in it or not — that was going to be a coach when he was all done, it would be Testy. He thought the game real well, he was well-liked by his teammates, he provided leadership skills. He could play in any type of game — fast, slow, physical-type game. I think this team is fortunate to have him in their organization.”
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
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