Deservedly, Drew Doughty has been much talked about as the improved Los Angeles Kings battle for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. While the 18-year-old rookie's play has made him a Calder Trophy candidate, it's been the development of fellow teammate Kyle Quincey that could be the real story of the Kings' defense.
The 23-year-old, Kitchener, Ontario, native would be legitimately involved in rookie-of-the-year discussions had the restriction on players who compete in six or more games in a single season not existed.
Taken 132nd overall in 2003 National Hockey League Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings, Quincey put up some good offensive numbers in the Ontario Hockey League with the Mississauga Ice Dogs; but unfortunately for him, he found himself in the middle of a numbers game in HockeyTown.
In a lineup with already deep on defense, the Red Wings had no need or room to give Quincey an extended look. In three seasons with the Wings, Quincy played only 13 regular-season games, but as an injury replacement, he received a chance to perform during the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs and was most recently a "black ace" during Detroit's title run last season.
Despite signing a two-year deal in September, Detroit had a crowded blue line and general manager Ken Holland needed roster flexibility. Quincey was the odd-man out and was placed on waivers in early October. Los Angeles picked him up and the kid has made Dean Lombardi look like a wise man ever since.
Quincey's skills were never the question, it's just that he was unable to get the chance to prove himself at the NHL level on a consistent basis, and that was kind of a surprise to Kings coach Terry Murray after they picked him up:
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"Any time you get a player off waiver wire, you spend the first week or so looking for areas in his game that said, 'Yeah I understand what the other team was doing in wanting to send him down and get some seasoning,'" Murray said. "The biggest surprise is we haven't found that after a couple weeks."
Forty-nine games later, Quincey is leading the Los Angeles blue line in points (29), is sixth on the team in shots with 102, and has been soaking up almost 22 minutes of ice time on a nightly basis. Detroit Head Coach Mike Babcock pointed out back in December that while Lombardi is praised for the move, Quincey could have landed elsewhere and the waiver move was just an opportunity that worked out for Los Angeles:
"One of the situations in the league is that when you have a lot of good players, you're trying to keep all your good players," said Babcock. "We were unable to keep Kyle, but the other thing is no one traded for him. That happens to lots of players. You go through waivers once or twice then someone's the smartest team in hockey because they got him."
Sitting just three points out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference, the Kings are making the most out of what they have at the moment. While they have six upcoming free agents this summer -- including defenseman Jack Johnson (restricted) and Kyle Calder (unrestricted) -- the core of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll, Patrick O'Sullivan and Doughty are all signed past next season and the seeds of a revival in SoCal are planted.
For Quincey, he finally got his shot at the NHL and is proving to be an essential member of the Kings. He's liked by his coached, his teammates and is a candidate for "best acquisition of the season."
What Detroit couldn't find room for, the Kings are hoping to add to their foundation for a franchise turnaround.
Quincey also becomes another waiver wire wonder, joining Ilya Bryzgalov (Anaheim to Phoenix) and Sergei Samsonov (Chicago to Carolina) and Kyle Wellwood (Toronto to Vancouver) as players who have benefited from a change in scenery in the past two seasons.
Could the impact of such players be the beginning of a trend where GM's pay a bit more attention to the waiver wire trying to find that next best part to add to their roster?