Stamkos, Doughty set to meet

ITEM: Top two picks in 2008 NHL Draft to square off for first time.

When first glancing at Monday’s NHL schedule, the matchup between defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit and Dallas would be the far sexier game.

The more interesting one, to me anyway, involves Tampa Bay and Los Angeles – a pair of bottom-feeders in their respective conferences.

The game also features the top two selections from last June’s NHL draft meeting head-to-head for the first time in Steve Stamkos and Drew Doughty, though neither has set the hockey world on fire halfway through their rookie seasons.

Stamkos, pictured here with Doughty and Atlanta’s Zach Bogosian, was selected first overall by the Lightning and has four goals and 10 assists in 40 games, but has clearly shown that he’s not quite ready to play a full NHL season just yet.

The 18-year-old has the second-worst plus-minus rating among rookies at minus-11, and was a healthy scratch for the first time in his brief pro career on Friday in a win over Anaheim. A spokesman for the Lightning said Stamkos will be given a game off now and then to build up his strength.

Seems to me that a professional athlete – even at 18 – should not need a day off here and there.

Doughty has played the most games this season by a first-year defenseman with 41, and has three goals and nine assists to rank third in scoring among rookie blueliners behind Boston’s Matt Hunwick and leader Alex Goligoski of Pittsburgh.

In an article published late last month in the Los Angeles Times, Doughty is grateful for the praise received – he’s drawn comparisons to some the best defensemen in the game, including Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer – but also made it clear that he approaches every game with a sense of urgency.

“I love all the accolades I have been given. I just don't think about them. I can't. I mean, I could be sent back to junior hockey any time. The way I look at it, I have to earn my job here every day,” Doughty said.

Wins by the Lightning have been hard to come by in recent years, but it seems they never fail to get up when it comes to traveling to face the Kings. Tampa Bay is 3-0-0 with two ties at Staples Center, and 9-1-0 with two ties all-time in Los Angeles.

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