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Kings Relying Heavily on Sean Durzi in Doughty's Absence

Passed over in his first NHL draft, Durzi has managed to become everything the Los Angeles Kings needed him to be on the blueline.
Sean Durzi

When a team starts to lean on a rookie defenseman too much, it's typically not a good thing.  

And, in a way, that's the situation for Los Angeles. It's unclear whether or not Drew Doughty will return this year after a strong 2021-22 campaign. The most veteran presence, Alex Edler, is a third-pairing defender at best these days. Los Angeles' current top four -- Tobias Bjornfot, Sean Durzi, Olli Maatta and Jordan Spence -- have combined for 692 career games, with Maatta playing 524 of them. Granted, that's with Doughty, Sean Walker, Matt Roy and Mikey Anderson on the sidelines, but it's an inexperienced group and the Kings needed someone to step up.

Right now, it's looking like Durzi's the guy.

Durzi started the season in the AHL, tallying five goals and 16 points in 13 games before getting his callup in late November. Ever since, Durzi has played way too good to be yanked from the lineup. 

Since Doughty suffered his injury on March 7, Durzi has averaged 24:18 in ice time, good for 17th among defenders with at least 10 games played in that span. Durzi has played at least 26 minutes per night over the past four games, highlighted by a whopping 28:36 against Calgary last week that set a season-high among rookies.

Durzi has earned that opportunity. Sure, his extended ice time can be partly attributed to a major injury on the blueline, but there are few things better in hockey than a young player having the trust of his coach. Todd McLellan believes in what Durzi brings to the table each night.

The Kings acquired Durzi in a trade that sent Jake Muzzin to the Toronto Maple Leafs back in 2019. At the time, Durzi's situation was interesting: he was passed over in the 2017 draft after a good, yet unspectacular OHL sophomore campaign. The next year, though, he emerged as one of the best overage prospects with 49 points in 40 regular season games and another 16 points in 11 games. He then played in the 2019 Memorial Cup with Guelph after winning the OHL championship while posting one of the best playoff runs in league history by a defenseman with 27 points in 24 games.

The offense was there, even if it took a bit longer than planned. And ever since, he's been one of the better young defensive prospects in the game. 

As the season has gone on, Durzi has looked more confident, both with and without the puck. That's to be expected as a rookie develops, but he hardly looks like someone still trying to learn the ropes.

The Los Angeles Kings weren't expected to be deep in the playoff conversation. Heck, they could still beat Calgary for the top spot in the Pacific Divison. But part of Los Angeles' ability to stay in the conversation is by its depth stepping up and filling in the gaps, and Durzi has done that and much, much more already.

The Kings' coaching staff clearly likes what they've seen out of Durzi, giving him the biggest opportunities of all in recent weeks. That's a bit of pressure heading into the playoffs, but there aren't high expectations, either. The Kings are still moving forward, and Durzi has been a good in-house option that's cheap, smart and, best of all, effective. 

It's always fun for prospects outside of the mainstream spotlight finding a way to shine.

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