Drew Doughty brought the puck up ice, never breaking stride as he knifed through the New Jersey Devils and scored on Martin Brodeur. It was an impressive play by the young L.A. Kings defenseman, and his former on-ice mentor Sean ODonnell couldnt help but smile.
Hes like a pitcher, the Blackhawks defenseman said. He wants the ball in his hands when game is on the line.
When Doughty began his NHL career in 2008-09, the Kings wanted a veteran defenseman to help the youngsters transition to the big time. Enter ODonnell, who was brought in from Anaheim to do just that. Four years later, ODonnell is impressed with what Doughty has done in such a short amount of time.
But the 40-year-old ODonnell isnt taking credit for Doughtys emergence.
Its almost like a teacher who gets a kid in Grade 5 or 6 and they go on to great things. You watch with admiration and youre proud, and youre happy you were able to help. But he was going to be a great player no matter who played with him, said ODonnell, who was out in L.A. where the Kings are preparing for Game 3 against the Devils. Hes doing things I could never imagine on the ice. Just to see that raw player when he came to L.A.; if I had a one percent influence, it makes you proud.
Doughty was already plenty talented when he began his NHL career. But it didnt hurt pairing him with ODonnell, who at the time was in his 16th season as well as his second stint with the Kings. And when ODonnell talked, Doughty listened.
Hes a very smart player, ODonnell said. He was a little bit raw when he came in and I would try to tell him, This is what this guy likes to do, or, On a 3 on 2, lets play it this way. And he just got it. He understood why. You explained it, he got it and he stuck with it.
The pro sports spotlight can be glaring on a rising star. Doughtys dealt with some heady stuff this season, from holding out during contract negotiations to signing his massive contract eight years, 56 million to trying to live up to the deal. Doughty has definitely shown his worth through this postseason. And ODonnell said Doughtys attitude helps him through the ups and downs.
I dont know if hes realizing the magnitude of what he does. He just has fun all the time, doesnt let pressure overwhelm him, ODonnell said. I talked to him a couple times: he missed training camp, hes 22 years old, and when he had a bad game people would say, Look how much hes making. I cant believe he held out. I think he struggled with that at the end of the year but now he's playing well. He just has to have fun, and now hes kind of playing with the house money.
Doughty has already done so much in his young career. Hes won Olympic gold. Hes earned a Norris Trophy nomination. And now hes on the cusp of winning a Stanley Cup. Not a bad resume for a 22-year-old. What could Doughty do in the future? ODonnell said you dont want to put pressure on the young guy, that it takes time for a good defenseman to become a great defenseman. But Doughty certainly looks well on his way.
And perhaps ODonnell should take a little bit of credit for that.
I hear him say things like, I need to be the best defenseman on the ice. Hes not cocky or arrogant. Hes just confident, ODonnell said. If hes playing way he can, he cant be stopped.