Making the Calder case for Drew Doughty

March, 27, 2009

At this point, with Steve Mason carrying the Columbus Blue Jackets to their first playoff berth, it would be a shock if the stellar netminder didn't win the Calder trophy as NHL rookie of the year.

And we're not here to dispel that. He's the obvious choice. But we are here today to make a case to our fellow members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, who vote on the Calder trophy, not to forget a defenseman with the Los Angeles Kings who might not have caught the attention of most fans but definitely has caught the attention of the rest of the league.

"Drew Doughty is a special, special player," an NHL coach told "To me, he's a young Scott Niedermayer."

That might sound a little like hyperbole, but what's impressing so many people around the league is how Doughty has stepped into the NHL at age 18 and played the toughest position to learn at that level. Defensemen simply don't come into the game at that age and play that many minutes and succeed. Doughty, who turned 19 in December, leads all NHL rookies with just less than 24 minutes of ice time per game.

"The problem with Drew is that the things that make him special aren't highlight-reel things," Kings GM Dean Lombardi told "I was talking to Harry Sinden at the GMs meetings about this kid, and he was a little skeptical. I said to him, 'I haven't seen a Canadian defenseman like this in a while, in terms of seeing the rink.'

"Then we were in Boston [March 19], and Harry called me between the second and third period, and said, 'Holy smokes, I see what you mean. That kid is special.'"

Doughty's offensive numbers won't knock you over -- he has 25 points (6 goals, 19 assists) and is a minus-15 in 73 games. But again, we're talking about a kid who has lined up most nights against the top forwards from the opposing teams, logging big minutes in critical situations. Did we mention he is still a teenager?

"He's just a smart hockey player with and without the puck," said Lombardi, who drafted Doughty second overall last June out of the Ontario Hockey League's Guelph Storm. "Really good defensemen don't make high-risk plays. If you think of Nick Lidstrom, he never gets himself in a situation where he really has to make a real high-level play. He just makes the right play at the right time. That's what strikes you when you watch Drew."

Lombardi said it's the little things that explain the effect Doughty has had this season.

"Even the way he gives pucks to forwards, he's thinking about the way that forward will be able to handle it and do something with it," he said. "Or if he has some space, he may take that extra little second, but not high-risk, to get that forechecker to bite on him and then give his partner more time.

"These are the little subtleties where you go, 'Whoa.' They're not always things that bring you out of your seat."

Mason will win the Calder, and Pekka Rinne, Bobby Ryan, Kris Versteeg and T.J. Oshie also warrant consideration; but if there's any justice, Doughty will be among the final three nominees for the trophy.

"There's no question he deserves it," Lombardi said. "If he's playing in Toronto right now, he's probably the favorite."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer


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