Drew Doughty has been a remarkably durable player throughout his fourteen seasons in the NHL. The 31-year-old never experienced any serious injuries until he hyperextended his knee in a scary collision with the Dallas Stars’ Jani Hakanpaa on October 22. Just one month later, Doughty is already skating ahead of schedule: a testament to his determination as a player.
The Impacts of Doughty’s Injury
Seeing Doughty go down so early in the season was difficult to say the least. For the Kings, this is the season where they want to make a legitimate push to return to playoff hockey, a feat that would be exponentially harder to accomplish without their star blueliner. The day after his injury, the Kings announced that Doughty had avoided ligament damage to his knee. This was uplifting, but the official timeline for his return was not confirmed until the team returned home from their four game road trip. Doughty was expected to skate at six weeks and miss eight total weeks with a “tibial plateau contusion” per Zach Dooley. Given the potential severity of knee injuries, eight weeks is one of the better scenarios the team could have asked for.
The Kings immediately felt the void left by Doughty’s injury by losing four straight games. The season-ending injury to fellow defenseman Sean Walker did not help the situation. With some adjustments, however, the Kings were able to turn things around, winning seven straight. Nevertheless, his absence was still felt: the team has been the definition of streaky, dropping four straight since their win streak was snapped. His presence could easily be the missing piece that could turn many of those tight losses into wins. However, for the Kings, he means so much more than his play or even his leadership: his teammates look up to him and strive to impress him. One could argue that he is the heart and soul of the team.
Doughty Skates Ahead of Schedule
As previously mentioned, Doughty was injured on Oct. 22 and was expected to begin skating at six weeks, which put his return to the ice around Dec. 3. He had his own timeline in mind: he suited up in a red no contact jersey during the Kings’ Nov. 19 practice, a full two weeks ahead of schedule. Presuming the rest of his timeline for return remains consistent, he could be ready to play with about two weeks of conditioning, putting his return on either the Dec. 2 game against the Calgary Flames or the Dec. 5 game against the Edmonton Oilers. Given Doughty’s history with the Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk, I would not be surprised if he has that game targeted for his return to the lineup. It remains to be seen, however, if the team’s doctors will clear him to play in time for the much-anticipated return of the Doughty-Tkachuk rivalry.
Putting aside his return to the actual lineup, his return to practice is still significant for a Kings team that has been struggling as of late. There is something about his goofy spunk that can be infectious. As NHL.com reported, Kings’ head coach Todd McLellan commented on the impact of Doughty’s presence, saying that it “energized the group”. He is so eager to get back into the play that the coaching staff had “to manage him a little bit” because he “got in the middle of a drill” that “he wasn’t supposed to be in”. Nevertheless, McLellan surmised that, for the team as a whole, “it was amazing to see him excited out there.” Seeing Doughty with the team again so soon after such a serious injury was uplifting for the team and fans alike.
Doughty is a natural competitor, and has an innate desire to win at all costs. It is one of the things that his teammates and coaches love most about him and, in all likelihood, it is driving his expedited recovery timeline. By attempting to join in drills that he is not yet cleared for, he is actively pushing to see if he can heal faster. While it is exciting to see him back on the ice, it is important to note the potential dangers of him returning to the lineup before his body is fully recovered. If he re-aggravates this injury, he could potentially be out long term. It is paramount that he listen to the advice of his doctors and, if necessary, take his recovery a little slower in order to preserve his health in the long run rather than solely focusing on getting back to playing as quickly as possible.
It is completely understandable why Doughty is so desperate to make a swift return to the lineup: the team is consistently playing well for the first time in years. Their streaky record does not tell the full story. The Kings have only lost three games by more than one goal this season. Even when they are losing, they are still competitive. For him, it must be incredibly frustrating to watch his team lose such tight games. He is a premier defenseman on a team with an extremely young blueline: his experience and ability to play in big moments is something the team is missing. His return could easily result in more consistent play from the entire team.
In all likelihood, with this updated timeline, Doughty will make a triumphant return in early December. His determination to return shows his dedication to helping the team win, especially in a season where they have a legitimate chance to make a return to the postseason. If his return to practice can energize the team, his return to the lineup should exponentially improve the morale and, by extension, the performance of the Kings.
As a native Angeleno, Katie Nash is a life-long Kings fan and experienced amateur hockey journalist. She is excited to provide her perspective through covering the Kings for The Hockey Writers.
Follow her on instagram @la.kings.hockey.