EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Drew Doughty said the Los Angeles Kings under new coach Todd McLellan will restore the culture of accountability that helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014.
“We didn’t have lot of that last year, a lot of tough love,” Doughty said Friday. “When I was a young guy in the League, teammates and coaches got on me every day, and it was more teammates than coaches. Guys don’t get on young guys like they used to in the past. I don’t know why that is, but I think with this new coaching staff everyone is going to be held accountable to the same level.”
The 29-year-old defenseman credited the constant prodding and teaching he received as a young NHL player from veterans such as Matt Greene as instrumental in his development. Going into his 12th season with the Kings, Doughty said he believes the absence of leaders like Greene and Jarret Stoll contributed to the diminishing returns since winning the Cup twice in three seasons.
The Kings have won one Stanley Cup Playoff game since 2014 and did not make the playoffs in three of the past five seasons, including the worst record in the Western Conference (31-42-9) last season. They also had the worst goal differential in the NHL at minus-61.
“Sometimes I think that’s why we’ve gone south is we don’t have those guys that get on guys, and so I think our veterans need to get on each other and on the young guys and on everyone,” Doughty said.
Forward Dustin Brown said he expects the addition of McLellan will revive a sense of collective responsibility, starting by demanding the very best from the team leaders, including Doughty and captain Anze Kopitar.
“It’s pretty easy if [Kopitar], [Doughty], myself, guys like that are being held accountable, then it makes it a lot easier to hold the line elsewhere,” Brown said.
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Brown also said he believes an influx of talented prospects will boost the competitive edge the Kings lost last season. Multiple players said during exit interviews that poor practice habits contributed to the worst season since 2007-08.
The training camp roster includes defenseman Tobias Bjornfot, the No. 22 pick of the 2019 NHL Draft; forward Rasmus Kupari, the No. 20 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft; and forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan, selected in the second round (No. 41) of the 2017 NHL Draft.
“I think there’s more opportunity for new players to push some other players out of the way,” Brown said. “That’s the nature of the business we’re in. No one is going to say, ‘Ah, I don’t want to play so you guys can have the spot.’ I think that’s a good thing for the makeup of our team, for the organization as a whole. If you don’t have younger guys pushing for spots, then you’re stuck. That’s what you want, the competitive nature. And then, as an older guy, at least for me, it’s ‘come and take it if you can.'”
The return of team spirit seems to have extended to one of their most veteran players, 36-year-old forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who frequently clashed with coach Willie Desjardins over his role last season. Kovalchuk had 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) in 64 games in his return to the NHL after playing five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Kovalchuk said he never regretted his decision to sign with the Kings, and he remains optimistic they can contend for a playoff berth in the final two seasons of his three-year contract.
“I believe we still got it,” Kovalchuk said. “In this league you never know. You see the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup, they were the last team in the whole league by Jan. 6, or something (Jan. 3). So you just have to work hard and together as a team because you can’t just be a bunch of individuals. You’ve got to work as a team, and the best team will win. Yeah, we have some new guys coming, but we have a core that knows how to win, and that’s most important.”
As far as McLellan is concerned, it doesn’t matter how much, or how little, NHL experience a player has. McLellan is looking for “growth, and that comes from players that have been here for 15, 16 years all the way down to the guys that have been here for 15 or 16 hours. Everybody has to improve in every facet of the game.”