To look ahead, Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar must look back. That’s when they start listing the names of the people who led them when they first broke into the NHL.
Rob Blake is one of them. So is Dustin Brown. Matt Green is another one, as are Dean Lombardi, Mattias Norström and Jarrett Stoll. The guidance they all provided helped transform Doughty and Kopitar from budding teenagers — Doughty was selected No. 2 in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and Kopitar No. 11 in 2005 — to franchise-changing stars who led Los Angeles Kings.” a series of two Stanley Cup championships in three seasons from 2011-12 to 2013-14 ..
Winning remains a priority for Doughty, who turns 33 next month, and Kopitar, 35. Not just now, but even after their playing days are over and their numbers hang from the rafters of the Kings arena. That’s why two veterans are taking what they’ve learned and passing it on to a new generation of kings in the hope that they can leave the organization in a better state than it was when they broke in.
“What you are trying to do is transfer knowledge,” Kopitar said. “Then you need to realize that not all players are the same. Not all leaders behave the same way. You try to stay in the moment as much as you can and do it within yourself… For example, I am usually or most of the time not the loudest person in the locker room. But there are times when you need to say something.”
These learning moments can come at any time. They can come to the bench during the game when Doughty speaks words of encouragement to calm the young player down. Or in the locker room after a workout. They may come when they are having a meal at a restaurant with teammates, or on the evenings when Kopitar hosts group dinners at his home.
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When Kopitar and Doughty joined the Kings, Kopitar in 2006/07 and Doughty in 2008/09, the organization was going through a six-year playoff drought. Doughty said his education began with Lombardi, the Kings general manager who was the architect of those two cup-winning teams.
Lombardi worked with Doughty to teach him what it means to be a leader and help him understand how his actions affect those around him. Doughty said he was the captain of the youth hockey team and the big junior team. But his approach was more focused on enjoying the game of hockey.
Three games into his NHL career, Doughty was already leading the Kings in playing time, an accomplishment Lombardi helped to represent.
“When I got to this level, I didn’t realize the overall effect that I have and [Lombardi] helped me become the player I am today,” Doughty said. “I just didn’t think about becoming a leader. I didn’t look to people for leadership. … The only thing I never understood until I was older was that people used to say, “The guys on the team are watching you.” I thought, “Why the hell are they looking at me?”
The influence Greene had on Doughty was so important that Doughty said he still turns to him for advice. Doughty lived with Green during his rookie season and has said that Green was like a brother or father to him and he remains to this day.
Doughty admits he didn’t always listen. For example, Green advised Doughty to train constantly. Doughty abandoned the idea. At least that was the case until he got older and began to realize that he needed to do work to perform at a high level.
Perhaps the biggest lesson Doughty learned from Green was understanding what it means to take charge of a team.
“That was the one thing he always taught me: this is your team, but if you don’t pressure her, who else will pressure her?” Doughty said. “He said, ‘You have to do it,’ and I asked, ‘Why not ask someone else? Why does it have to be me? He said, “Because it’s your job and your responsibility.” It was only three or four years ago when I discussed this. Now I understand that this is part of growing up.”
It’s one thing to hear it. Another thing is to influence him. So how have Doughty and Kopitar affected their younger teammates?
First, they worked to make everyone feel welcome. Kopitar remembered what it was like to be 19 and be around a future Hall of Famer like Blake. He knows about the nerves, trying to make a good impression, and at the same time, how important it is to keep them under control.
“I’m sure it’s the same with these guys now,” Kopitar said. “Some of these guys watched us grow 10 years ago when we won the first Stanley Cup. Sometimes it must be a little uncomfortable. But between me and Drew, I feel like we’re pretty open people and very approachable. as convenient as possible.”
On the day that Doughty spoke to Sportzshala, he was going to have lunch with several of his younger teammates, including 19-year-old rookie defenseman Brandt Clark. Doughty spoke with excitement about Clarke and how they work together. He was equally enthusiastic about center Quinton Byfield, who turned 20 in August.
Byfield and Doughty bonded last season when both were injured. Doughty said that he and Byfield skated together, trained together, and that he drove Byfield to games last season. They even play video games together.
Kings defenseman Mikey Anderson, who is in his third full season, is one of eight under-24 homegrown players on the active Kings roster. They are part of a core that also features Byfield and Alex Turcott, among others, which seems to be forcing the Kings to move on from their rebuild and start on the path of a potential perpetual playoff team.
Anderson, 23, described what it was like to study with Doughty and Kopitar. He said that Doughty, who is his defensive partner, would make a subtle joke or say something that would make a teammate smile, in hopes of relaxing him.
“He’s strict with the guys, but he’s also patient,” Anderson said. “If something goes wrong, he will let you know what we need to do to fix it. But when things are going well, he will be the first to tell you, “Hey dude, great job. Keep up the good work. Continue”. doing it.'”
When asked about Kopitar, Anderson said the Kings captain would invite junior players to his home so they could interact with his kids and have dinner with his family. The first couple of times Anderson dined at the Kopitar house, he said he was overwhelmed because he didn’t know what to expect.
But eventually Anderson realized something that helped him get over his nervousness about attending those family dinners. The more often he was invited, the more Kopitar wanted him to be himself.
Anderson said that Doughty and Kopitar are so affable that they go so far as to make their younger teammates feel comfortable in their life situations. This can include anything from furniture recommendations to contacting a real estate agent if needed.
“They make you feel like you belong and are part of the team,” Anderson said. “I don’t know if this always happens. But we’re so lucky to have these two [Jonathan Quick] and I’ll even throw a brownie [Dustin Brown] there too. The first couple of years of my work, all these guys welcomed the young guys with open arms to become part of their own family.
After this season, Kopitar had one year left on his contract, while Doughty had four. Both have created resumes that will see them retire as two of the greatest kings of all time and also make a strong case for being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
But for Doughty and Kopitar, their careers don’t stop there.
Perhaps the day will come when players like Anderson, Byfield or Clark will be in their 30s and look back at what life was like at the start of their careers. They will share stories of what it was like to learn from an older group of guys who cared for them, in the hope that these lessons can be passed on to the next generation.
This is the legacy that Doughty and Kopitar want to leave behind.
“In the beginning, we had some not-so-great teams, and then we got some really good ones,” Kopitar said. “I think our growth potential can be very high right now. I see the potential of this team and would not want to play anywhere else.”