Kings have gems in Doughty and Moller, Flames go cold, more
Kings rookie Drew Doughty is drawing comparisons to NHL great Ray Bourque
Rookie Oscar Moller is a big surprise and earning a spot on the Kings' top line
Flames being burned by Miikka Kiprusoff, but Atlanta's surge is impressive
I was looking forward to working Thursday night's game between the Stars and the Kings for one reason -- and no, it wasn't to see how the stunningly out-of-sorts Marty Turco would shoot himself in the foot this time. Thursday was my first chance to catch the early leader for the Calder Trophy: Los Angeles defender Drew Doughty, in person. And brother, the 18-year-old did not disappoint.
In fact, outside of a pair of third-period defensive zone turnovers -- the kind that are inevitable when you handle the puck as much as he does -- Doughty performed like the most experienced player on the ice. Even without putting a point on the board, his impact in all three zones was undeniable.
Those Ray Bourque comparisons? Pretty easy to see where they're coming from. Doughty is not as physically punishing as the former Boston great, at least not yet, but the similarities are obvious. The poise with the puck. The flawless positioning. The willingness to drive to the net coupled with the ability to get back first to make the defensive zone play. No wonder coach Terry Murray rewarded him with a career high 27:06 of ice time against the Stars. When someone's playing like that, no matter how old they are, you've got to ride them hard.
But as impressive as Doughty was, another Kings rookie managed to snatch a bit of the spotlight for himself. 19-year-old center Oscar Moller.
Moller can't match Doughty the defenseman on the national buzz index, but he's quietly established himself as key component of the Kings' rebuilding effort. Watching him, it's hard not to think of another Bruin: Patrice Bergeron. Partially it's a similarity in style. Both are creative, fast and feisty. But the more obvious link is that, like Bergeron, Moller's rapid adaptation to the NHL makes it hard to believe that 30 teams passed on him -- some twice -- in the 2007 draft. Like Bergeron, Moller is small by today's standards (listed at 5-11, 180), and even in a league more tolerant of the size-challenged, that shortcoming was enough to drop him to 52nd overall.
Moller went to camp, but wasn't physically ready to make the immediate jump last fall. That wasn't an issue this time around. Stronger and more confident, he's earned a spot on the second line with Alexander Frolov and Jarret Stoll. The group was the team's best against the Stars, consistently buzzing the Dallas end and accounting for the Kings' second and third goals, with Moller earning the primary assist on Kyle Quincey's game-winner.
The trio seems to be meshing well, but given Murray's propensity for mixing up his lines, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Moller lining up on L.A.'s top unit alongside Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown.
"You don't want to rush things, put a player in a position where he's less likely to succeed. [But] I don't think that would be a problem [for Moller]," one scout told SI.com. "He struggled through the first few games and you wondered if he'd get his game on track, but now he's just playing. You can tell he feels like he belongs."
"He plays with a lot of energy. He always finds a way to catch your eye when he's on the ice," another scout said. "The puck's always around him, and when he has it, he makes good decisions. He looks stronger, too. He looks ready to compete."
Anyone can scoop up a player when they're drafting in the top five. For a rebuilding team to expedite the process, they have to mine a few gems outside the first round. Moller may need some more polishing, but the Kings look to have a pair of jewels in him and Doughty.
Jamming The Crease
A pair? Make that three Kings, with Colton Teubert emerging as one of the top prospects in junior hockey. The 6-3, 190-pound defender, selected 13th overall by the Kings last summer, is off to a fast start with the Regina Pats of the WHL. In just 18 games, Teubert has eight goals and 18 points -- three off last season's total -- with 54 penalty minutes and a plus-15 rating. "He's a poor man's Chris Pronger," a scout told SI.com. "He might not reach the same level of success, but he's got a similar skill set. He's a solid, physical player, a [high-end] skater, and he knows what to do with the puck. He's been a dominant force [in the WHL]."
After years of suffering with Mike Weaver, Nathan Dempsey and Kevin Dallman, you can forgive Kings fans for swooning while they imagine the potential of a blueline with Doughty, Teubert, Jack Johnson (third overall, 2005) and Thomas Hickey (fourth overall, 2006). The group should be on the ice together next season.