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Los Angeles Kings Defenseman Drew Doughty Leads NHL in Ice Time

January 29th, 2013 at 7:51 PM
By Brandon Der Avanessian

'L.A. Kings parade -- Drew Doughty and Dustin Penner' photo (c) 2012, JulieAndSteve - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty was supposed to make a strong run at the Norris Trophy this season, coming off a next-level performance during his team's championship run in last year's Stanley Cup playoffs. The defenseman has been showered with expectations since being drafted second overall in the 2008 NHL Draft, but the role he is beginning to assume during the early portion of this season may have the 23-year-old in over his head. With two of their biggest leaders on the blue line out due to injury, head coach Darryl Sutter has put the challenge of filling the void square on the shoulders of his young defenseman.

At 6-1, 215 pounds, Doughty is the type of all-around defender who can play in any situation, whether it's five on five, killing penalties, or on the power-play. He's a two-way player whose reliability on defense has improved dramatically over the years, while also having the natural ability to score and create plays on the offensive end of the ice. The team has always relied on Doughty to play heavy minutes night in and night out, but with Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene dealing with injuries during the early part of this season, his time on the ice has reached a new high.

In last Tuesday's 3-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, Doughty played nearly 30 minutes, logging 29:53 of ice time. Two days later, he racked up 33:25 in total minutes during an overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers. Through five games, Doughty leads the entire NHL in average ice time, at 29:10 a game.

While he is certainly capable of making those minutes count, the idea of running the team's best defenseman ragged is a risk that could carry unfavorable results for the team. There is no doubt that a young 23-year-old defenseman like Doughty is able to endure the heavy ice time, but with that comes a greater possibility of injury. The big minutes also have an effect on the player's energy and ability to recuperate from game to game.

As usual, Doughty is getting plenty of time on the power-play, yet even with the increase in all-around minutes, he hasn't registered a point through five games this season. If his point total remains low, his increased ice time may be to blame. Doughty has averaged 45 points a season over the past three years, including a career-high 59 points (16 goals, 43 assists) in 2009-10.

Doughty's partner on defense, veteran Rob Scuderi has also seen a jump in ice time this season. The 34-year-old ranks 18th in the NHL through the first five games, playing an average of 25:20 a game, nearly 5 minutes more than he averaged in 2011-12.

It is a short season though, and if there ever was a time to play heavy minutes, it's now. It would seem to be less of a hazard during a 48-game span, than during a long 82-game season. If the team does make the playoffs, it will be important for their top defensive pair to still have their legs underneath them at seasons end.

Mitchell, who is recovering from offseason knee surgery, has been medically cleared to play, but remains hesitant to step into game action. A return by Mitchell would certainly help ease the burden for Doughty, adding a veteran who can play big minutes, which is something the Kings are short on at the moment.

Greene on the other hand, will be out for quite some time and possibly for the remainder of the season. The 6-4, 235 pound alternate captain played in just one game this year before suffering a back injury that required surgery.

Even with all of his skill at both ends of the ice, Doughty doesn't have the natural size and strength that both Mitchell and Greene posses. In their absence, he is almost required to do much more than he should have to.

Filling in for Mitchell and Greene are inexperienced defensemen Davis Drewiske and Jake Muzzin. The two have combined to play in only 126 NHL games, Drewiske accounting for 111 of those. Sutter had been reluctant to offer up any more than 12 or 13 minutes a game to each of them, although their minutes have risen a little over the past couple of games. Drewiske and Muzzin are not the veteran stay-at-home defensemen that Mitchell and Greene are. The two of them are more in-between blueliners, and although they both have good size at around 6-2, 215 pounds a piece, they don't have the combination of power and experience that the Kings' two injured defensemen do. 

As the two blueliners continue to gain experience, Sutter will likely begin relying on them more. Muzzin is already beginning to see some time on the power-play, with his hard shot being used as a weapon when the Kings have the man advantage. 

At the moment though, Sutter's options remain limited, and he is being forced to rely on Doughty for a large portion of every game. It is never healthy for any player to be on the ice for almost half of a 60 minute game, but if anyone can handle it, it's a young and talented defenseman like Doughty. The return of Mitchell, whenever that does finally happen, and the progress of players like Drewiske and Muzzin will help in lowering Doughty's minutes, factoring greatly in the King's ability to make a run at defending Lord Stanley's Cup.

Tags: Davis Drewiske, Drew Doughty, Hockey, Jake Muzzin, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Kings, Matt Greene, NHL, Willie Mitchell

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