Los Angeles Kings Broadcasters: Anze Kopitar Is Now An Elite Player

FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: As this series featuring the long-time broadcasters of the Los Angeles Kings continues, like everyone else, they marveled at how forwards Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, and Anze Kopitar raised their level of play during the Kings’ 2012 run to the Stanley Cup. Part nine of a series.

LA Kings center Anze Kopitar, shown here during the on-ice celebration at
Staples Center, after the Kings won their first Stanley Cup
Championship on June 11, 2012.
(click above to view larger image)
Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net
LOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — As the Los Angeles Kings blew through the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 16-4 record, winning the first Stanley Cup Championship in the 45-year history of the franchise, many pointed to the fact that they got contributions from everyone in the lineup as a key factor in their success.

That the Kings got those contributions from every player, all the way through their lineup, was significant, without a doubt. However, no team can win the Stanley Cup unless their best players are just that, in every game.

While goaltender Jonathan Quick was their best player, three other players were not far behind. Indeed, forwards Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar, along with defenseman Drew Doughty, shined brighter during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs than they ever have in their National Hockey League careers.

Doughty Thrives On The Big Stage

As his team was on the verge of being swept out of the second round of the playoffs, St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock claimed that Doughty was the best player in the first three games of that series.

Whether or not Hitchcock was serious, or if he was simply doing some of the typical playoff posturing that coaches often do, he was right about one thing: Doughty had raised his level of play to heights no one had seen from him before.

Indeed, Doughty’s play peaked during the playoffs. Given the fact that he was playing catch-up for most of the 2011-12 season after his contract holdout, his performance during the post-season is that much more of a surprise.

“We’ve seen that before from guys who miss most of training camp,” said the Voice of the Kings, television play-by-play announcer Bob Miller. “Then he got hurt early in the season, and he missed something like five games.”

“We all thought, too, whether we were right or not, that he was trying to do too much to live up to the big contract, instead of just, ‘do what you do, just play within yourself,’” added Miller, who has called the action for the Kings since 1973. “‘Play with the tools you have. Don’t worry about trying to put on a show and being a superstar.’ I think that finally got to him later in the season.”

As the stakes were raised, Doughty got better and better.

“Drew has a way of just being quietly efficient,” said radio play-by-play announcer Nick Nickson, who has been calling the action for the Kings for 31 seasons. “His bio, when he was drafted, said, ‘the bigger the game, the better he plays,’ and I think we’ve all seen that now.”

“We’ve always said about Drew Doughty, the bigger the stage, the better his game [is],” said Kings radio color commentator Daryl Evans. “I think it was evident when they went to the [2010 Vancouver] Olympics, and when you look at his game during the post-season, he likes that challenge.”

If Doughty learns to play at, or very near that level on a consistent basis, watch out.

“That’s one of the things he’ll learn, at his young age, the importance of consistency, and that doesn’t necessarily mean statistics,” said Evans, who has been Nickson’s partner for 13 seasons. “Drew is one hell of a defenseman. He does a great job. He’s got great mobility back there. When you combine his ability to defend with the natural part of his game, [his offense], it’s magical, and he has not even touched what he’s capable of in this league. He should be a candidate for the [James] Norris [Memorial] Trophy (awarded annually to the league’s top defenseman) for many years.”

The Hockey News has Doughty ranked as the top defenseman right now,” Nickson noted. “Of course, a lot of that is based on the Kings winning the Stanley Cup. This is interesting because, during the regular season, he did not receive one vote for the Norris Trophy. He’s rated as the sixth-best player in the NHL.”

“Everybody’s ratings and polls are so subjective,” Nickson added. “I think everyone knew Doughty had the potential, and I think, as the season wore on, he got better and better. Again, the bigger the games got, the better he played, and if that’s what we’re going to see for the next ten to 15 years, that’s going to be pretty darned good.”

Playoff Dominance Pushed Kopitar To Elite Level

Speaking of top players, Kopitar set the standard for forwards throughout the league during the post-season, according to Kings television play-by-play announcer Jim Fox, who has been Miller’s partner for 22 seasons.

“Kopitar was the best forward in the playoffs, the best skater in the playoffs {throughout the NHL].”

“When you look at Kopitar, he played in one post-season, and missed another post-season [in 2010-11 against San Jose, due to a broken ankle],” Evans explained. “I think, in the post-season he missed, he saw elite players, and I think he learned a little bit. I know [former head coach] Terry Murray preached it, and [current head coach] Darryl Sutter did a great job in instilling that type of confidence to make him dominant.”

“One of the things that allowed Kopitar to dominate was the acquisition of [center Mike] Richards, and [forward Jeff] Carter,” Evans elaborated. “That took a little of the attention away from him, and to his credit, Anze found a way to get the job done. [Even on] nights when he was shut down a bit offensively, he dominated defensively. I don’t think he’s going to fly under the radar too much longer.”

Kopitar certainly opened a lot of eyes across the league during the playoffs, and will garner a lot more attention going forward.

“We know, here in L.A., because we have the luxury of watching him every day, at practice and [at games], how good a two-way player he is,” Evans stressed. “He’s definitely in the elite group in the NHL, and I think, now, the rest of the league is going to be aware of that. He’s going to get a lot more recognition.”

“He’s got that ability to put his name in [for the James Selke Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL’s best defensive forward],” Evans added. “Kopitar, with the experience, will continue to keep gaining [on the league’s best defensive forwards], and because of the size factor, he’s going to make a strong argument.”

“He’s got that ability to make [other] guys better, a key to being a true superstar. Not only are you able to put your own points up, but when you can make your teammates better, and do what he had a big part in, with the Kings winning the Stanley Cup, Anze Kopitar has definitely [reached] that plateau.”

Brown Raised More Than Just His Level Of Play

While Kopitar was, arguably, the best forward in the league during the playoffs, Brown was not all that far behind.

“Brown—he had a hell of a year,” said Evans. “He did a great job of leading the hockey club. He really emerged right after the trade deadline. He took the bull by the horns.”

“I thought the leadership of Brown really came through, more so in the playoffs than in the regular season,” Miller emphasized. “Of course, none of us are in the locker room between periods, and all that. As we know, Brown is not a [vocal] guy. Neither was [former Kings right wing and general manager] Dave Taylor, as captain. But his actions in [the first two games of the series against Vancouver], on the ice, set the tone, this is what we’re going to do in [this series].’”

“I think Brown would probably be the first to admit to anybody [that] those twelve games of playoff experience he had going into [last] year helped him immensely,” said Nickson. “He went out there and said, ‘I’m going to set the tone.’ You can’t do a much better job than what Brown did in the first two rounds.”

To many, Brown’s and Kopitar’s performances came out of nowhere, as neither has performed at that level prior to the 2012 playoffs.

Nickson indicated that one must look at their previous playoff experience in order to understand where those performances came from.

“They’ve never really had the opportunity [before the Kings’ 2012 playoff run],” Nickson stressed. “Kopitar’s first playoff series was two years ago, against Vancouver, and the Kings [lost] to a very good Vancouver team that year. Last year, he was hurt, so he didn’t play against San Jose. So, going into [last season’s playoffs], you don’t really know how good Kopitar can be, because he’s never really been there—[just] six career playoff games.”

“Brown’s in the same boat,” Nickson added. “He played [the last two] seasons in the playoffs, but again, nothing past the first round. When you compare Kopitar to Brown in the first two rounds, Brown is a little bit above everybody because of his physical play and his scoring. Kopitar was scoring, but Anze is not an overly physical player. But where Anze stands out is in all the finer parts of the game. We all know how he’s developed as a good, strong, two-way center who plays all 200 feet of the ice. He’s always down low, helping out the defensemen, with outlets, bail-out plays, stuff like that.”

Kopitar’s ability to dominate became clear to Nickson well before the Kings’ Stanley Cup run.

“Kopitar now has the smarts, and the experience, to shut down the other team’s best players,” said Nickson. “Going back the last couple of years, in games against Detroit, I remember talking to Terry Murray, and in Detroit, the Red Wings would put [star forwards Pavel] Datsyuk and [Henrik] Zetterberg, who were line mates for most of that year, [out] against Kopitar’s line. [But] in the two games in Detroit [in the 2010-11 season], where [Red Wings head coach Mike] Babcock has the last line change, Kopitar outplayed both of them, and outscored both of them. In the two games in L.A., Murray said, ‘I’m going to put Kopitar up against Datsyuk and Zetterberg, too,’ and he outscored them in L.A., in both games. In the four games in the [season] series, Kopitar had seven points (four goals and three assists), and the two Red Wings had two [points each].”

“That was kind of a turning point for me, and for a lot of us,” added Nickson. “Here’s a guy who has taken his game to another level.”

“Right now, there are only a handful of centers, and we know the West more than the East, that are as good, all around, as Kopitar. [Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan] Toews, maybe, Datsyuk, and Kopitar, I’d put in that group now.”

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