While many around the league are skeptical of the Los Angeles Kings' chances this season without the services of Drew Doughty, there is still the matter of who will take the restricted free agent's place on the blueline should he remained unsigned.
In 2008 when Drew Doughty was drafted second overall, many experts expected the young defenseman to become the cornerstone of the Kings' franchise. Despite the lofty expectations, Doughty certainly wasted no time in establishing himself as a full-time defenseman in the NHL. But at that same draft, the Kings selected another blueliner thirty picks later when they took Vyascheslav Voynow 32nd overall.
At 5'11, 193 pounds, size certainly isn't on the side of the Chelyabinsk, Russia native. However, like most players, what Voynov lacks, he certainly makes up for in other categories as he is notorious for his speed and great puck-handling abilities, which may turn out to help Los Angeles in the short-term.
I had the privilege of watching Voynov played during the 2009 World Junior Championships in Ottawa when his Russians were playing Sweden. Although Voynov and the Russians lost that game, he certainly stood out with his exceptional on-ice presence and that is certainly no exception these days as Voynov tries to crack a lineup spot with the Kings.
After averaging 26 points in his first two seasons in Manchester, Voynov stepped his game up a notch but tallying 51 points in 76 games last season with the Monarchs, including finishing the campaign with a +21 rating, 18 points better than his previous high in the category. Voynov also helped out in the playoffs this past spring for Manchester by registering five points in seven games.
Some may suggest that Voynov will have his best chance to make the big club this season simply because Drew Doughty is MIA. If there is any truth to that, it is because of the depth of the defense in Los Angeles and nothing about Voynov or his game. Regardless of how or why Voynov is having such a great preseason is irrelevant. The simple fact that he is having such a great preseason is good enough. In four games, Voynov already has two goals and two assists and is determined as ever to make a name for himself.
For all those critics who dismissed the Kings this season simply because Drew Doughty has yet to be signed should do a little more research before jumping to such conclusions. As much as I would love to have Doughty back in the lineup, his absence is palpable for the simple reason that the Los Angeles Kings, with the help of thorough scouting and smart drafting over the last few years, have enough depth to compete, albeit many of their defensemen have yet to prove themselves at the NHL level.
Either way you look at it, when I see Slava Voynov play, he strengthens my argument at just how deep the Kings are on the blueline. With no disrespect intended towards the likes of Thomas Hickey, Andrew Campbell and Jake Muzzin, if Los Angeles needs another defenseman to fill that void left by Doughty, then, in all likelihood, they will not have to look any further than Voynov.
To say that Slava Voynov will turn into the next Drew Doughty is both premature and not very likely at this point. However, with his talent aside, if Voynov can step in and contribute to this team like he has so far this preseason, then the sky is definitely the limit.
I will not wish Doughty good riddance but if Voynov does make the team and proves to be a great defenseman, then Drew Doughty better take a moment or two to seriously reconsider what he and his agent have been doing lo these last few months because, as cold as it is to say, talent is replaceable - regardless how much talent there is.