NHL

How Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar have shaped the Kings

How Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar have shaped the Kings

look to the future, Drew Doughty i Anze Kopitar you have to look back. That’s when they start calling out the names of the people who guided them when they first entered the NHL.

Rob Blake is one of them. Also Dustin Brown. Matt Greene is another, as are Dean Lombardi, Mattias Norström and Jarret Stoll. The guidance they all provided helped take Doughty and Kopitar from promising teenagers — Doughty was the second overall pick in the 2008 NHL draft and Kopitar was the No. 11 pick in 2005 — to rising stars of franchise led by the Los Angeles Kings. run of two Stanley Cup championships in three seasons from 2011-12 to 2013-14.

Winning remains the priority for Doughty, who turns 33 next month, and Kopitar, 35. Not just now, but even long after their playing days are over and their numbers hang from the rafters of the Kings arena. That’s why the two veterans are taking what they’ve learned and passing it on to the next generation of Kings in hopes that they can leave the organization in a better place than it was when they entered.

“What you’re trying to do is impart knowledge,” Kopitar said. “So what you have to realize is that not all players are the same. Not all leaders lead the same way either. You try to stay in the moment as much as you can and you do that within yourself.. . For example, I’m not usually, or most of the time, the loudest person in the locker room. But there are times when things need to be said.”

These teachable moments can come at any time. They can come to the bench during a game when Doughty offers words of encouragement to put a young player at ease. Or in the locker room after practice. They can come when they have a meal at a restaurant with their teammates or on those nights when Kopitar hosts a group meal at his home.

This is what veteran coaches, managers and players mean when they talk about culture. But building this culture takes time.

When Kopitar and Doughty joined the Kings, Kopitar in 2006-07 and Doughty in 2008-09, the organization was in the midst of a six-year playoff drought. Doughty said his education began with Lombardi, the Kings general manager who was the architect of those two Cup teams.

Lombardi worked with Doughty to teach him what it meant to be a leader and help him realize how his actions affected those around him. Doughty said he was a team captain in youth and major junior hockey. But his focus shifted more towards having fun while playing hockey.

Three games into his NHL career, Doughty was already leading the Kings in ice time, a feat Lombardi helped put into perspective.

“When I got to that level, I didn’t realize the overall effect I have and [Lombardi] it helped me become the player I am now,” Doughty said. “I didn’t really think about being a leader. I didn’t look to people for leadership. … The one thing I didn’t realize until I got older was people saying, ‘The guys on the team are looking at you.’ I was like, ‘Why the hell are they looking at me?'”

The impact Greene made on Doughty was so crucial that Doughty said he still goes to him for advice. Doughty lived with Greene during his rookie season and said Greene was like a brother or a father to him, and still is to this day.

Doughty admits he didn’t always listen. For example, Greene told Doughty to exercise constantly. Doughty rejected the idea. At least he did until he got older and started to realize that he had to do the work in order to perform at a high level.

Perhaps the biggest lesson Doughty learned from Greene was understanding what it meant to take charge of the team.

“That was the one thing he always taught me: This is your team, but if you don’t push the load, who else is going to push it?” Doughty said. “He said, ‘You have to do this,’ and I was like, ‘Why don’t you ask someone else? Why does it have to be me?’ He said, ‘Because that’s your job and responsibility.’ It was only three or four years ago that I had that discussion. Now I realize it’s part of growing up.”

It’s one thing to hear that. Another is to act on it. So how did Doughty and Kopitar affect their younger peers?

On the one hand, they worked to make sure everyone felt welcome. Kopitar recalled what it was like to be a 19-year-old and be around a future Hall of Famer like Blake. He knows the nerves of trying to make a good impression and the importance of keeping them under control at the same time.

“I’m sure it’s the same with these guys now,” Kopitar said. “Some of these guys watched us grow up 10 years ago winning the first Stanley Cup. It’s got to be a little awkward at times. But between me and Drew, I feel like we’re pretty open and very approachable people. We try to do that. it’s as comfortable as possible.”

The day Doughty spoke to ESPN, he was out to lunch with some of his younger teammates, including the rookie linebacker. Brandt Clarke, who is 19 years old. Doughty spoke excitedly about Clarke and how they have been working together. He had the same level of enthusiasm when talking about the center Quinton Byfieldwho turned 20 in August.

Byfield and Doughty became close last season when both were injured. Doughty said he and Byfield skated together, practiced together and drove Byfield to games last season. They even play video games together.

Defense of kings Mikey Anderson, who is in his third full season, is one of eight local players under the age of 24 on the Kings’ active roster. They’re part of a core, which also features Byfield and Alex Turcotte, among others, that looks like the Kings are moving on from their rebuild and starting on the path to potentially being a perennial playoff team.

Anderson, 23, offered some insight into what it’s been like learning from Doughty and Kopitar. He said Doughty, who is his defensive partner, will make a subtle joke or say something that will make a teammate smile in hopes of relaxing him.

“He’s tough on guys, but he’s also patient,” Anderson said. “If something doesn’t go right, he’ll tell you what we need to do to fix it. But when things go right, he’s the first thing to say, ‘Hey man, great job.’ Keep doing this. Keep on. doing this.'”

When asked about Kopitar, Anderson said the Kings captain will bring the younger players to his home so they can hang out with their kids and have dinner with their family. The first few times Anderson dined at Kopitar’s house, he said he felt surprised because he wasn’t sure what to expect.

But Anderson eventually realized something that helped him get over the nerve to go to those family dinners. The more often he was invited, the more Kopitar wanted him to be himself.

Anderson said Doughty and Kopitar are so welcoming that they go so far as to make sure their younger teammates are comfortable with their living situations. This can include anything from making furniture recommendations to connecting them with a real estate agent if needed.

“They make you feel like you belong and you’re part of the team,” Anderson said. “I don’t know if that always happens. But we’ve been lucky to have these two, [Jonathan Quick] and I’ll even throw in Brownie [Dustin Brown] also in there. In my first two years, all these guys welcomed the young people with open arms to be part of their own family.”

After this season, Kopitar has one year left on his contract while Doughty has four. Both have built the kind of resumes that will see them retire as two of the greatest Kings of all time, while also making strong cases for induction into the Hall of Fame.

But for Doughty and Kopitar, their careers are about more than that.

Maybe there will come a day when players like Anderson, Byfield or Clarke are 30 years old and look back on what life was like at the start of their careers. They will share stories of what it was like to learn from a group of older boys who cared about them in hopes that those lessons can continue to be taught to the next generation.

That’s the legacy Doughty and Kopitar want to leave.

“We had some not-so-good teams early on and then we had some really good teams,” Kopitar said. “I think our advantage now can be very high. I see the potential here with this team and I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else.”



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