“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.
For the Los Angeles Kings, we pick… defenseman Drew Doughty.
First, let’s be perfectly clear — there might not be a team under less pressure than the L.A. Kings, and there’s nothing wrong with the way Doughty played last year. The 23-year-old logged the third-most minutes in the NHL, finished second on the Kings in d-man scoring and finished ninth in Norris Trophy voting. By most player’s standards, that’s a pretty solid campaign.
But Doughty isn’t most players.
He set expectations sky high during his sophomore campaign in 2009-10. Doughty scored a career-best 59 points, earned a spot on the NHL’s second All-Star team and was a Norris finalist.
Offensively speaking, Los Angeles needs him to get back to that level.
The Kings admitted 2013 was something of a letdown campaign, even though they made it to the Western Conference final. Doughty lamented the lack of offense (2.06 goals per game) in the playoffs — “we’re not scoring more than two goals a game, we’re only getting a few, and that’s why we’re losing,” he said — and captain Dustin Brown said he felt like they left something on the table.
“We didn’t play up to our potential and we made it the Western Conference Final,” he told NHL.com. “I don’t think that’s a surprise, but in a roundabout way it’s a positive out of a negative.
“We were one of the final four teams and I don’t think we played anywhere near to our potential.”
So, back to Doughty.
He’ll be under pressure to up his production — a tall order considering how well he played last year, but appropriate given he’s the club’s highest-paid player at $7 million a season.
To do that, he’ll need to reverse his downward scoring trend. Since averaging 0.72 points per game during his stellar ’09-10 season, Doughty has seen that average drop to 0.53 (2010-11), 0.47 (2011-12) and 0.46 (2013).
Last season also marked just the second time in four years Doughty didn’t lead the Kings in d-man scoring. That went to Slava Voynov, who finished with 25 points.
There’s also pressure on a larger scale. Doughty’s Kings are determined to get back to the Stanley Cup final, and he’s all but assured of a spot on Team Canada’s Olympic team for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. So in addition to re-capturing Lord Stanley’s mug, he’s also going to be responsible for defending Olympic gold.