When Mikey Anderson was initially paired with Drew Doughty to form the Kings’ top defensive duo, Anderson was more inclined to ask Doughty for an autograph than ask for a pass.
“I was a little in awe,” Anderson said of Doughty, the leader of the Kings’ Stanley Cup championship teams, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and winner of the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman in 2016.
“He’s a guy I grew up with watching on TV, playing video games,” Anderson said. “And then you come here and you have to play with him, he’s a bit intimidating.”
Doughty’s support helped Anderson shake off his nerves and become a solid defender with a convincing lead. Anderson’s confidence and strength have grown exponentially, helping him flourish this season on both ends of the ice.
With each game he plays, the $33 million, eight-year contract extension he signed last month looks more like a bargain for the Kings. The 23-year-old Minnesota native is a future captain in the making, and he was willing to give up several years of free agency to stay in Los Angeles.
“Since I came here, I feel at home,” he said. “It’s a place where I fit in very well, or at least I feel like I do. From a life standpoint, it’s a place I see myself staying for a while, raising a family and everything here. And the team is in a good place. I like how things are going as a group. I like the group of guys we have here and I want to be a part of it.”
Anderson, who leads the team with 150 hits and ranks second behind Matt Roy in blocked shots with 125, has produced career-high totals of five goals and 19 points in 71 games. That’s not overwhelming, but it’s a dimension that Anderson, who played on the power play at the University of Minnesota Duluth, can continue to explore.
“Obviously, the defensive part has been my strength, what I have built for myself. I don’t want to lose that,” he said Friday after the team practiced in El Segundo. “The way the game is going, you want to be able to help offensively, especially because of the offensive defenders we have in the league right now. I feel like I can complement them well, but it’s something I want to keep improving on and help the team if I can.”
Coach Todd McLellan ranks Anderson among the NHL’s elite defensemen and is impressed that Anderson is trying to scale greater heights by improving his point production.
“I think he’s always been a really solid, controlling, defense-first individual, but he’s worked really hard on his shooting and has a better sense of when to jump. He now he has a lot more confidence on offense,” McLellan said. “That’s the skill part on the ice.
“What you can’t see is his leadership on the bench, even in practice. There are a lot of guys that have stepped up, but he’s one that I regularly notice using his influence in the group. And he has an impact.”
For an evolving defenseman, Anderson is in a good place in his career and in the locker room. Doughty sits to the right of him at the practice facility. Veteran Alex Edler sits to the left of him. Anderson has found his voice on the ice and in the room, but he knows the value of listening.
“Learning from these two is amazing,” he said. “They have over 2,000 games of experience between the two of them. They are good guys to be around. They have done it and in teams that have been very successful, they have played an important role, so for a younger guy you can’t ask for much more.
Lately, defense has been a strength for the Kings, who cleaned up their performance after some stumbles early in the season and will go on an 8-0-2 point streak in their game against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday afternoon on Crypto. .com Sand.
In their last nine games, the Kings have outscored their opponents 36-16, excluding the team goal awarded to Nashville and Vancouver in shootout losses to those teams. His renewed focus on defense began after they beat the Jets 6-5 in a shootout in Winnipeg on February 28. McLellan went on to show players a video that emphasizes the value of small details like coverage after a faceoff and defensive zone positioning.
That hit the nail on the head for a team that is scoring galore but still bases its identity on preventing goals.
“I think over the years we’ve figured out what works for our group, and part of that is being a good defensive team,” Anderson said. “We did a lot of it last year and that’s something we didn’t have as much at the start of the year and we’ve slowly found it. As time has passed, we have become more comfortable doing it. We have trusted it. Everybody bought it. It helps that we have goalkeepers who make saves when we need them.
“Maybe with our breakdowns, we’re not doing five or six a game like we used to do earlier in the year. Now, it’s one or two. But they have been able to help us when we need them. All things considered, I think it’s been a group effort and a good improvement from everyone.”
As for being called “Mikey” instead of Michael, his real name, or Mike, he said is the only name he’s ever known. “Some people get mad, like, ‘When are you going to change? You’re older now,’” he said. “I laugh.”
He’s done well as Mikey. “Why change?” he said. “We will keep it.”