LOS ANGELES — Nourishing the hockey beast in Canada wasn’t easy in the days leading up to the start of NHL training camps. But the cable network TSN did its best and rolled out a single-elimination bracket style to answer one simple question.
You are starting an NHL franchise, and get to select one player as your cornerstone. Who do you take?
Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty reached the final four of TSN’s “Franchise Faceoff” and lost to Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby. But he received nearly 40 percent of the fan vote, meaning almost four in 10 fans would opt to start a franchise with Doughty instead of the league’s two-time most valuable player.
Doughty, sitting upstairs at the Kings’ training facility in El Segundo this week, looked pleased and mentioned a recent endorsement from a certain dynamic Hall of Fame defenseman.
“It’s very flattering,” Doughty said. “A close friend is good friends with Paul Coffey, and Paul Coffey told him if he was going to start a team, he would start it with me.
“Coming from a guy like that, one of my idols growing up, one of the top five defensemen to ever play the game, hearing that just gives me a ton of confidence. I don’t even know how to explain it.”
Doughty won’t turn 25 until Dec. 8 but already has won two Olympic gold medals, representing Team Canada, and two Stanley Cup titles, with the Kings in 2012 and 2014.
The only gap on his power resume is an individual trophy. Doughty finished sixth in June in voting for the league’s Norris Trophy, the award given to the defenseman who demonstrates the “greatest all-around ability in the position.” He had a third-place finish in Norris voting in the 2009-10 season.
So is this the season Doughty finally wins that elusive individual prize? The only Kings player to win the Norris Trophy is Rob Blake, who won it in 1998 and is now the team’s assistant general manager.
Doughty’s stellar playoff performance in the spring — the postseason does not count in Norris voting — has put him front and center this season.
“I do believe he is a favorite to win now that the rest of the hockey world saw him play so well in the playoffs,” said TSN analyst Ray Ferraro. “He will be in the forefront of minds at the start. There isn’t one defenseman I’d rather have on my team.”
An undisclosed upper-body issue kept Doughty off the ice Friday for the first day of training camp, but Kings Coach Darryl Sutter indicated that it was not serious. Doughty suffered the injury when he was training in the summer in his hometown, London, Canada.
Forwards Jarret Stoll (hip) and Kyle Clifford (wrist), who both had surgeries in the summer, were on the ice in the morning session. Sutter said the team was being cautious with Doughty, adding that he worked out off the ice Friday.
The off-ice charm of Doughty is that he will come out and say he wants to win the Norris Trophy, refusing to play it coyly or politically. It may be a personal goal, but it goes hand in hand with team responsibilities, especially since he said the current Kings group is “like a brotherhood.”
“I feel like if I’m doing the right things for my team and playing the way I’m capable of playing — that’s my job,” Doughty said. “I feel if I do play that way, it’ll give me a chance to win it.”
Kings center Anze Kopitar assessed why that has not happened. Doughty is heading into his seventh NHL season.
“I think we have to take the blame, as a team, because we weren’t scoring a whole lot of goals,” Kopitar said. “But he’s always been solid defensively, his plus-minus has always been up there. He hasn’t really produced the way the other D-men did.
“So if we can get the scoring up a little bit and maintain the defensive play, I think he has a good chance every year.”
Rogers Sportsnet analyst Darren Pang asserted that an increased offensive output might not be necessary. Pang also has watched Doughty up close in the Kings’ two playoff rounds against the St. Louis Blues, in 2012 and 2013, in his broadcast role with Fox Sports Midwest.
“He’s the entire package,” Pang said. “If he doesn’t win it this upcoming year, there would be a really good reason for that: Shea Weber, (Alex) Pietrangelo, (Zdeno) Chara, P.K. Subban slides into it and wins it because they’ve played so phenomenally well.
“I don’t think he has to rack up any more points. My feeling is: A winner is a winner.”
An emotional Doughty is an effective Doughty.
“The thing is when he acts like a kid, he plays the best hockey,” Kopitar said. “For him, I think that’s the way to go, doing all the stuff that gets him fired up. Of course he’s more mature and learned over the course of six years. That’s great for him and I’m still sure he’s going to learn more stuff. But he’s got to be the kid that’s played hockey 10 years ago.”
The best performances by Doughty have come under Sutter’s close watch, dry words and biting wit.
“Right when I got back from the Olympics, I was his No. 1 target. I played really well at the Olympics,” Doughty said. “When I first came back, he said ‘congratulations,’ and whatnot. But at the same time, right off the bat, he was all over me.”
Still Doughty had to laugh when he remembered one of Sutter’s best lines, a shot delivered before the Kings’ Stanley Cup run in 2012.
“One time he benched a bunch of guys on our team, Kopi, (Jeff) Carter, (Mike) Richards, and then I came off the ice and he decided to bench me with them as well,” Doughty said. “He told me, ‘Go join Millionaire Row and take a seat.’ I’ll always remember that.”
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