EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — At age 20, Drew Doughty’s star was heading to the constellations.
During his sophomore NHL season, the Los Angeles Kings defenceman was the youngest member of Canada’s gold-medal winning Olympic team and finished third in Norris Trophy voting after compiling 16 goals and 59 points, which also earned him a spot on the NHL’s second all-star team.
By comparison, Doughty’s numbers this season make it appear his career has travelled like a North Korean rocket.
With just 10 goals and 36 points, it would be easy to say the London, Ont., product has taken a big step backwards.
However, Doughty — whose team can eliminate the Vancouver Canucks when they meet Sunday for Game 5 of the best-of-seven series the Kings lead 3-1 — said this season has been learning that points aren’t as important as other elements in his quest to be a top blueliner.
“They want me to shut down the other team’s best line every night. That’s one thing I needed to focus on,” Doughty said. “When you’re playing against top players every night, you can’t take the chances to jump in the rush as much or can’t take the chances to make a fancy play.
“It’s different compared to my second year, but I’ve enjoyed playing that role, and I know the points will come to me because I have the potential and opportunities to do it.
“In my second year, everyone thinks I played so great, but really I was just getting points. I’m way better defensively now. I think that’s the biggest difference, people who don’t know their hockey so well, they think it’s all about points, but at the same time I was doing more to get points.
“I want to be one of those top guys some day. It’s a process and a process I’m willing to go through.”
Considering he’s only 22 years old, Doughty has time to get there, but it won’t just happen.
Plenty of defencemen have burst on the scene with big offence but never developed into consistent stars. Dion Phaneuf is a prime example. The special ones turn into perennial Norris Trophy contenders.
“Drew Doughty’s an awesome kid and very coachable kid,” said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. “I think he’s going to develop into a top defenceman. He plays a lot of minutes for a young guy, but you don’t instantly become a great player or a top player. It’s going to be with experience and it’s going to be about how he handles it all.
“You don’t just learn in half a season or even two or three years. It takes time to become the whole package.”
Rest assured, Sutter, who took the head coaching reins from Terry Murray mid-season, has placed huge expectations on Doughty, whose struggles this season partially stem from missing a couple of weeks of training camp while hammering out a contract — eight years, US $56 million — and an early season concussion.
“Ever since Darryl took over, I feel I’ve stepped up my game,” Doughty said. “I think our whole team was down in the gutter before the coaching change. Ever since then, we’ve had a different mentality here. It’s more working hard, being harder on pucks, quicker all over the ice.
“Darryl’s been really hard on me ever since he’s been here. If I play a great game but make that one mistake, he’s going to make sure that he’s all over me for it.
“It’s not fun when he’s all over you, so I make sure I do everything I can to play a perfect game out there every night.”
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak