Londoner whips up Storm

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

Defenceman Drew Doughty isn't old enough to drive a car but he's certainly good enough to run an OHL power play.

The 15-year-old London native's transition from minor hockey with the Junior Knights to a regular spot on the Guelph Storm blue-line, and plenty of time on special teams duty, has blown away folk who felt youngsters must get used to the league before succeeding.

The fifth overall pick in the 2005 OHL draft has 17 points in his first 22 games for the upstart Storm, who lead the Western Conference coming into tonight's game with the London Knights at the John Labatt Centre.

"I was surprised at the start how much I was playing because I didn't come in expecting too much," the six-foot, 190-pounder said. "I was watching the (OHL) rookies closely last year and I saw (London Knights first-rounder) Steve Ferry wasn't getting a lot of ice time on defence but look who he was playing for. That was an outstanding team."

Guelph head coach Dave Barr has paired Doughty with 18-year-old Ryan Parent, a Nashville Predators first-round draft pick.

"It's been perfect because my favourite part of the game has always been the offensive side. Ryan helps out so much. He covers well and shows (proper) positional play. The speed of the game always takes some time to get used to but I feel pretty comfortable out there. The new rules are an adjustment but I think they favour a guy like me who likes to skate."

Off the ice, Doughty shares a billet with old Junior Knights teammate Leigh Salters, a second-round pick by the Storm. The two attend Grade 11 classes at Our Lady of Lourdes in Guelph.

"We hung around in London and now we're at the same place and going to school together. We're always doing something like tossing around the football outside."

The Storm are about as close to a local team as you'll get visiting the JLC this season. Goalie Ryan MacDonald and defenceman Ryan Pottruff, a Woodstock native, are former Knights, backup goalie Jason Guy is a former Knights prospect, Tyler Doig hails from Seaforth and suspended Brandon Biggers is from Sarnia.

Guy, in fact, is responsible for driving Doughty and Salters to practices and home games. Does the promising puckstopper allow the 16-year-old Salters, who has his beginner's licence, to take over the wheel at times?

"No, not at all. That never happens," the six-foot-three, 200-pound Salters said with a laugh. "We do have some guys with London connections on our team. This game (tonight) is one I've looked at since training camp. There's a lot of friends and family coming and I just hope they cheer for me.

"We've played in the JLC before (with the Junior Knights) but never with 9,000 people before. That's going to be different."

Unlike Doughty, big Salters has found himself in primarily a checking role and knows he must earn every bit of extra ice time.

"It's all power play and penalty kill now, so I know I have to wait my turn," he said. "I don't have a goal yet. I have four assists, but this would be a good time to get my first one."

Both have big dreams for their hockey futures.

"I'm still learning, but I want to be the best," Doughty said. "I love our coaching staff. This is a great environment. Everyone thought we were building this year because we have young players, but we know we can be a strong team.

"It was a little strange to come in and see Barr-sy suspended (the first month of the season because of an incident from Guelph's first-round playoff series against London last year), but he was able to sit up top and later pass on things to me that he wouldn't have been able to see if he was on the bench."

Doughty's fine start drew praise from London GM Mark Hunter, who has watched the rookie defenceman play several times.

"He's a good player, a strong skater," Hunter said.

KNIGHTWATCH

Tonight: vs. Guelph, 7 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre

Tomorrow: vs. Owen Sound, 7:30 p.m. at the JLC

Saturday: at Erie, 7:30 p.m.


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