EL SEGUNDO — Kings coach Terry Murray wasn’t the only one keeping a close eye on Viatcheslav Voynov.
General manager Dean Lombardi stuck around for the afternoon session on the opening day of training camp Saturday at Toyota Sports Center, evaluating the player most likely to replace defenseman Drew Doughty if his contract negotiations linger into the regular season.
Voynov, a 21-year-old Russian who made the AHL All-Star team last season while playing for the Kings’ affiliate in Manchester, shares many of the same skills as Doughty, who's still home in Ontario, Canada, as his agent wrangles with the Kings over a new contract.
"[Voynov] has a little bit of an edge because he’s a right shot and also because he’s a very skilled guy and plays the power play,” Murray said. “That’s one of his strengths, to be able to carry the puck, see the ice and make plays.”
Doughty was a Norris Trophy finalist following the 2009-10 season, in part because of his dynamic offensive skills. He finished third in the league in scoring among defensemen that season, just his second in the NHL.
Voynov, a second-round pick in 2008,, has improved his offensive numbers each season in the AHL, climbing from 23 points in 61 games in 2008-09, to 29 points in 79 games the following season and then breaking through with 51 points in 76 games last year.
“When you pay your dues in the minors the last couple years, like he has, and keep getting better, he’s a player that I’m going to keep a very close eye on,” Murray said.
Among the other young defensemen who have a shot at making the team at the expense of Doughty is 22-year-old Thomas Hickey, the fourth overall pick in the 2007 draft, and Davis Drewiske, 26, who spent last season with the Kings but watched most of the games from the press box as a healthy scratch.
“You can go through the different names, but there’s no question, at the end of the day, someone is going to get rewarded because of Drew Doughty not being here,” Murray said.
Murray said he’s not overly concerned with Doughty’s absence, but his presence is missed both on the ice and in the locker room, where he’s very well-liked among his teammates. Murray said he’s not sure what kind of shape Doughty’s in, since the training staff hasn’t had contact with him since the beginning of summer, but he believes he’s doing what it takes to stay in condition.
“He’s a player coming into an ownership [role] in this organization,” Murray said. “I have confidence that he has a good feel for what needs to be done in order to get himself ready to play hockey, so when the deal gets done he’s not going to miss a step, just come in and start to play.”