LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — In a city overflowing with movie stars, television personalities, musicians and every other kind of celebrity imaginable, Drew Doughty enjoyed a degree of anonymity that other high-profile players in the NHL or any professional sports league could only dream of.
But after leading the Los Angeles Kings to their second Stanley Cup finals in the past three seasons, the defenseman is finally getting noticed around town.
“It’s changed drastically,” he said. “Back in the day we could roll in anywhere, and there’s no way anyone would know who you were, no possible way. Now it seems like everywhere we do go, we are getting recognized.”
The New York Rangers know all about Doughty, too, after he showcased his burgeoning offense midway through the second period of Game 1 on Wednesday. After forward Justin Williams dropped off the pass, Doughty skated through the offensive zone — taking the puck between his legs at one point — and beat Henrik Lundqvist over the goalie’s right shoulder for the tying goal.
“It was incredible,” Kings forward Tyler Toffoli said. “It doesn’t really surprise us, we know what he brings and the skill that he has.”
The Kings would go on to win 3-2 in overtime, taking the next step toward what could be the franchise’s second Stanley Cup title. The first in the 2011-12 season was relatively drama-free and defined by a smothering defense, in stark contrast to this year, where the top scoring offense in the playoffs has allowed the Kings to triumph in three consecutive Game 7 series, all ending on the road.
The difference in Doughty’s statistical output reflects as much. He has 17 points this postseason to lead all defensemen and is tied for sixth-most among all players, with five goals representing exactly half of his regular-season tally. However, his plus-minus rating is down significantly from the 2012 run, as his increased role in the offensive zone has resulted in breakdowns the other way.
The defenseman earned 37 points during the regular season, and is averaging 28:25 on the ice during the 2014 post-season, compared to 25.43 from the regular season.
One such example came in the first period of Game 1 when Doughty reached and failed to secure a pass back to the blue line on a power play, which gave Rangers left wing Benoit Pouliot an easy breakaway down the ice for a 1-0 lead.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter said before the Stanley Cup finals that Doughty is still finding that balance as a two-way weapon, while also playing nearly 28 minutes per game. Still, Sutter views the 24-year-old as a cornerstone player in the same mold as greats Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios.
“I think Chelios was the best all-around defenseman that I had the opportunity to coach,” said Sutter, referencing his time with the Chicago Blackhawks. “So I’d say that Drew would be trending more toward that type of player in terms of the all-around part of it, in terms of the whole package part of it.”
With two Olympic gold medals and one Stanley Cup to his credit, Doughty already has a resume worthy of such praise. He could become just the second player to win a gold medal, the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP in the same year, a feat accomplished by Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks in 2010.
“He’s the best defenseman in the world, as far as I’m concerned,” Kings defenseman Alec Martinez said. “He does everything well. He can skate the puck, shoot the puck. He can defend. He’s willing to block shots. He’s got a lot of heart and he’s a great leader, makes big plays at big times. You really can’t say enough about him.”
And with such accomplishments, everything Doughty does is getting noticed these days. His celebration after the Kings won Game 7 in overtime to oust the defending champion Blackhawks has become widely circulated on social media, slamming the glass with two fists before flailing to the ice while going over the boards.
Even former Kings teammate Dustin Penner couldn’t help but take a playful jab at Doughty.
“Great game by @dewyy8 so far. Hasn’t fallen off the bench once yet since last game,” Penner wrote on Twitter during Game 1.
“You just kind of black out in those situations,” Doughty said. “Sometimes stuff goes wrong.”
Not much else is going wrong for Doughty, even if comes at the cost of his privacy. That is a trade he is more than willing to make.
Said Doughty: “I’d rather have the problem and be a winner than not have the problem and lose.”
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)