LA Kings Look Stronger: Need Anze Kopitar To Step Up

Anze Kopitar (left) and Justin Williams (purple jersey, at right) look on during drills at the LA Kings 2009-10 Training Camp. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Kings.
Anze Kopitar (left) and Justin Williams (purple jersey, at right)
look on during drills at the LA Kings 2009-10 Training Camp.
Photo courtesy Los Angeles Kings.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — Not long after the 2008-09 season ended Los Angeles Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi and head coach Terry Murray both said that the most important factor in their team’s improvement would be for their players, especially their best players, to get stronger and improve their conditioning.

The players appear to have gotten the message.

Back in July, most of the players got together here in the Los Angeles area to work out and bond.

“It was the first year we tried to do it and we had a really good response,” said Kings right wing and team captain Dustin Brown. “The majority of the players—there were a handful of guys who didn’t come or weren’t able to come. But, at one point or another, we had ten guys here for about two weeks and as some guys went out, other guys came in. It’s something to build on.”

“It was really good to get together when we didn’t have to,” added Brown. “I think the guys who came out and experienced it…they had made their plans to come out and at the end of the trip, maybe they wanted to stay longer, but they had already made their plans.”

Center Anze Kopitar went home to Slovenia for the summer, but was with his teammates for three weeks in July.

“[Matt Greene] and [Dustin Brown] talked about it last year,” Kopitar explained. “They told me and the other guys. We wanted to get here at the same time, everyone together, so we could bond, go for a drink or two, get to know each other better and, at the same time, do a lot of work as we did.”

“From my point of view, it helped me and I’m pretty sure that for everyone else who got here, it was good for them, too.”

For right wing Wayne Simmonds, home was in Toronto, but he too was here in the Los Angeles area in July.

“The majority of the summer I spent in Toronto, but the majority of the guys—we came to LA in July for two weeks,” said Simmonds. “Some of the guys were here for the first half, other guys were here the second half, but it was really good for bonding.”

As the players went through their physical testing on September 12, their first day of training camp, Murray was impressed.

“When I look at the [physical testing on Saturday], I was very pleased with what I saw,” he said. “There was a lot of hard work put in during the off-season. You can clearly see that, not only in what they’re doing when they’re doing their exercises, but just to take a look and see the definition.”

“Some of the young guys have grown a great deal,” he added. “They’re starting to mature, starting to become hockey players.”

Indeed, one look at the players, especially the younger ones, says it all.

“I was about 180 coming in last year, now I’m 186,” said forward Oscar Moller.

“I feel a lot stronger,” said Simmonds. “I ended the season at 176 pounds. I’m a solid 183 pounds right now. I feel faster and stronger on my skates.”

Drew Doughty, the Kings’ top defenseman even though he is just nineteen years old, has also worked hard in the gym.

“He’s another year older, another year more mature, physically,” said Murray. “He’s worked out over the summertime with the program. You can clearly see it with these young guys, the changes they go through, physically, along with just maturing—physically growing up. He looks more solid as a player.”

“I turned [body fat] into muscle,” said Doughty. “I’m probably around the same weight I was last year. I threw a couple of hits out there. I feel stronger moving guys up against the boards.”

Murray added that his number one defenseman is going to be given even more responsibility.

“We’re going to push him,” Murray stressed. “He responded last year with 24-plus minutes a night. We’re looking to up that a little bit and have him become, again, a real impact player for our team.”

Speaking of impact players, center Anze Kopitar, in particular, needs to step up and be a big-time producer offensively this season if the Kings are going to meet expectations and make the playoffs.

“Your top players are key guys,” Murray emphasized. “Your key guys have to go out and perform at a high level in critical situations at critical times during the season. We’ll be looking for [winger Alexander] Frolov and that line [Anze Kopitar, Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams] that I had together—I like what I see on paper. I’m hoping some real good chemistry can develop throughout the training camp. I want to keep them together throughout the camp and the exhibition games.”

“That line is going to have to be a big part of it and Kopitar in particular has got to have a really big bite of this hockey club,” Murray added.

Kopitar hopes that he can play well with Smyth and Williams for a long time.

“I hope so, and I think the other guys are hoping for that, too,” he said. “I played with Justin a little bit last year. I know Smyth’s game pretty well. He’s a pretty simple guy, a straight-line guy. I don’t think it’s going to be too hard to adjust to his game or to get the chemistry going.”

“I think we felt pretty confident with each other,” he added. “Hopefully, we’ll keep that chemistry and put in a good season.”

If Kopitar is feeling more pressure on himself this season than he has previously, he is not admitting it.

“We have to put some pressure on ourselves because we’re the ones who have to do it,” said Kopitar. “That’s just the way it is. But at the same time, you want to be relaxed and play at the top of your game. Of course, you want to feel a little bit of pressure but not too much because if you feel too much pressure, you can seize up.”

Quick Is Number One…For Now

Going into training camp, Jonathan Quick has been anointed as the Kings’ number one goaltender.

“Our number one goaltender is Quick,” said Murray. “He’s the guy, we’re going with him. There’s no gray area in that for me. Right at the start of training camp, [the job is] his to lose, it’s his to keep.”

“I really respect the way he came in in the middle of the year and played and played really well, giving us an opportunity to win every game he played in.”

After winning 21 games last season, Quick made a strong case for the job. But even he knows that as a 23-year-old netminder with only 44 games at the National Hockey League level under his belt, he has a long way to go before he can fully claim the title as the team’s number one netminder.

“I still have a lot to prove,” he said. “I only played half a season last year. Nothing’s going to be given. Last year, I was coming in trying to prove my way onto the team and I’m going to do the same this year.”

Erik Ersberg is in the number two spot and Jonathan Bernier is not far behind.

“Ersberg is our number two guy but am I ruling out Bernier? No,” Murray stressed. “I loved what I saw in Bernier during our Development Camp in July. He came in in great shape, he was hungry, he stopped everything, he competed like the way you’d want to see a player compete. He’ll get in games and we’ll make a decision on everything.”

“I’m here to give it my all,” said Bernier. who is expected to go all the way in goal against the Phoenix Coyotes in a pre-season game at Staples Center on Tuesday (7:30 PM PDT). “What they’ve asked me to do is just work hard and follow every rebound in practice. Right now, I’m just going day by day and see how many games they’re going to give me.”

Training Camp Audio Interviews

Jonathan Bernier

Dustin Brown

Drew Doughty

Anze Kopitar

Oscar Moller

Jonathan Quick

Wayne Simmonds

Ryan Smyth

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