SOCHI, Russia – Jeff Carter has played alongside the likes of Peter Forsberg, Claude Giroux, Rick Nash, Daniel Briere, and Anze Kopitar, but not one of them stacks up to Drew Doughty in one key department.
"He's probably the most skilled guy I've ever played with and I've played with some pretty good players," Carter said after a close 2-1 overtime win against Finland. "When his confidence is going [and] he's feeling good about himself he can do anything out there. It's pretty amazing to watch."
Doughty scored both Canadian goals – including the upset-preventing overtime winner – late Sunday evening, lifting his country to top spot in Group-B and a berth in the quarterfinals. On a grand Olympic stage that features the highest caliber of talent this game has to offer, the 24-year-old from London, Ontario stands out as one of the very best.
"I forget about everything that's going on around me and I'm just focused in on that game and having fun," he said.
Third in tournament scoring after the preliminary round, Doughty leads Canada with four goals – including one in each of the three games – and five points, totaling nearly 20 minutes of ice-time against the Finns.
No apparent fear or uncertainty seems to exist on his part, no matter the venue.
Doughty is willing to force the action and assert himself on centre-stage, if and when the moment presents itself. This was clear again in overtime at Bolshoy Ice Dome when he deposited a Carter feed beyond the pads of the nearly-unbeatable Tuukka Rask. It was perhaps most emphatic during the 2010 Olympics when he proved a revelation as a 20-year-old for the gold-medal winning Canadian squad.
"Confidence," said Carter in a word. "When you put all his skill with that confidence it's pretty amazing."
And maybe his personality has something to do with that no-fear persona on the biggest stages, which also included a Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Doughty's defence partner here in Sochi, describes him as "pretty loose" and "funny". A teammate for two-plus seasons with the Kings, Carter agrees, calling him "one of a kind for sure", always with "a smile on his face, bouncing around, laughing, having a good time."
Those easy-going qualities seem to translate to the ice.
"He plays loose out there," Carter said. "He's not scared to try and make plays too and I think that's what make him such a dynamic player."
Doughty carries a cool about him on the ice that makes every one of his movements seem controlled and purposeful, almost as if nothing else out there matters in the scheme of what he has to offer the game. His passes are crisp and on the tape. His daring rushes look as though they were designed beforehand, each stride, angle and movement carefully calculated. His instincts with the puck make it seem as if he is just a step ahead of what lies next.
"That's what Drew does," said Carter of Doughty, the No. 2 overall pick from the 2008 draft, who is logging 26 minutes per game for the Kings this season. "He does it all year for us [in Los Angeles] and probably doesn't get as much recognition as he should because of the time zone and what not."
Doughty doesn't look nor appear nervous on this stage, but says he was four years ago in Vancouver during that first Olympic stint. But the nerves that bubbled there were not for the reasons one might think. It had nothing to do with the pressure of bidding for gold on home soil, but was more about his youthful place on a veteran roster that featured aging stars and future Hall-of-Famers like Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger.
"I was just a little young guy there, had so many older guys around me that I didn't know whatsoever," he said. "I was nervous mostly because of that, not because of the fans and the pressure and the country and all that, it was just meeting all these All-Star players."
If not leaning on Niedermayer and Pronger for wisdom, Doughty made sure to stash other hints for success. "Just watching them that's all I had to do," he said. "And I learned so many things just watching those guys play and it helped me out for this one for sure."
Doughty looks like he's just having fun, like the intensity of all that lays around him has no bearing. Facing a large horde of media after his overtime winner he stepped toward a microphone and began to speak only to be reminded that he needed to actually speak into the microphone.
Cool and jovial, he responded with a sarcastic crack, "I actually gotta talk into the microphone?"