London's next big thing is Doughty

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:43 AM ET

Drew Doughty grew up playing hockey with Edmonton Oilers rookie Sam Gagner.

But it's unlikely the two will reunite in the NHL, unless the Oilers trade up - they currently have Anaheim's first-round pick from the Chris Pronger trade, but don't have their own, lost in the Dustin Penner RFA steal.

Doughty, 18, is the second-ranked prospect for the upcoming NHL Draft, and last night took part in the Home Hardware CHL Top Prospects game at Rexall Place.

But as a defenceman, he may be more coveted than top prospect, centre Steven Stamkos, especially if the Los Angeles Kings get the first pick.

"I don't think about that too much," Doughty said. "I know that there are so many things that can happen and someone else can go ahead of me in that ranking.

"I just go out there and play my game, and for the rest of the season I'll try and play my best and show the scouts that I can play the game."

The Kings have plenty of young talent up front and may be looking to bolster their back end at the draft. Currently the team is last in the NHL standings and have a good chance of ending with the No. 1 pick if they remain there.

Doughty is considered the best defenceman among a strong crop of draft-eligible blueliners.

WHAT A YEAR!

The six-foot, 219-pound rearguard with the Guelph Storm represented Canada at the World Junior Championships earlier this month, where he was named the tournament's best defenceman, a first-team all-star and claimed a gold medal.

He also played in the Super Series against Russia this September alongside Gagner.

"It's been an unbelievable year with all the things that I've gone through and all the championships that I've won. It's been an unbelievable experience," Doughty said. "I've been having the time of my life and it's definitely been my best year of hockey so far."

The native of London, Ont., - also Gagner's hometown - Doughty has nine goals and 29 assists in 36 games this season with the Storm. Last year he scored 21 goals and added 53 assists in 67 games.

Currently, the Storm are third in the Ontario Hockey League Midwest Division with a 20-17-8 record.

"We kind of underachieved in the first half of the season, but now we're starting to do a lot better," Doughty said. "Going into this last stretch we've won the last few games, so hopefully we can continue to do that and earn a spot in the playoffs."

EXPECTED BACK IN OHL

Wherever Doughty ends up going in the draft, he is expected to end up back in the OHL next season. Defencemen, generally, take longer to develop than forwards at the NHL level.

"I think the stats have shown that it's a little tougher for defencemen to jump into the NHL right away," Doughty said. "I wouldn't say I'm expecting that at all, but it would be awesome to make the NHL that fast. But ... I'm expecting to be back in Guelph next season."

Doughty is aware of what he needs to improve in order to become a quality D-man.

"I think I need to get physically stronger. I need to get better all around," he said.

"I need to improve my defensive game, need to work on my offensive game. This year I'm going to practise to work on all those aspects and try to get as much better as I can."


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