LOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — When players move from one team to another, especially at the National Hockey League’s trade deadline, the adjustment that a player has to make, both on the ice and off, is never easy. But veteran left wing Marian Gaborik seems to have made the transition from his old team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, to the Los Angeles Kings, with remarkable ease.
Since he was acquired on March 5, 2014, Gaborik has played in twelve games, scoring three goals and contributing five assists for eight points, with a +1 plus/minus rating, and four penalty minutes.
On the season, he has nine goals and 13 assists for 22 points, with a +1 plus/minus rating and ten penalty minutes in 34 games.
More important is the fact that before Gaborik arrived, the Kings, who are 8-3-0 with him in their lineup, were scoring a measly 2.17 goals per game (GPG). But since he joined the team, they have scored 2.75 GPG, which would rank them 14th in the NHL in goal scoring, if that was their full season average (Kings are ranked 24th, averaging 2.41 goals per game for the season).
The Kings’ power play numbers are also up, clicking at an 18.2 percent rate with the man advantage since Gaborik’s arrival, compared to the 15.6 percent rating prior to him joining the team.
The Kings, who are currently ranked 26th in the league on the power play with a 15.2 percent rating, would move up to 14th in the league if they were converting at an 18.2 percent rate for the season.
In other words, Gaborik hasn’t just fit in. Indeed, he is just what the doctor ordered.
“He’s played almost 800 games in this league, so I’m sure he knows how to adjust,” said center Anze Kopitar. “He’s been though a couple of systems, and with different coaches. I don’t think the systems can really be that different between teams. At least, it seems that way. It’s an adjustment, but I think he’s adjusted pretty well.”
“He’s a world-class player, for sure,” added Kopitar. “If you give him the puck in the right areas, it’s a pretty safe bet that he’s going to put it in the net. With [right wing Justin Williams], we’ve been moving the puck well, and finding each other pretty well.”
Fitting in also needs to happen off the ice.
“He’s fit in tremendously, and it’s not just what he does on the ice,” said Williams. “It’s fitting in off the ice, too. He’s got a great personality, and a great aura about him. Guys have taken to him. We all want to win here, and it seems like he really wants that as well.”
“He’s been pretty open to everything,” Kopitar noted. “He came in, and I think he figured out in a hurry that we’re a pretty tight group. He’s fit in really well. I think it helped out that we were on the road for a couple of games, so everybody got to hang out with him a little more than we would if were here [at home].”
“I’ve never been traded, or anything like that, but I can imagine stepping in with a new squad in the middle of the season, trying to learn a new system and all that, I think he’s done awesome,” said defenseman Alec Martinez. “We’re really happy to have him.”
As others have noted, Williams pointed out that Gaborik not only gives opposing teams another threat to worry about, but he also moves other wingers into slots they are better suited to.
“When other teams are scouting us, they’ll look up and down the lineup—he creates depth, not just on the line that he’s on, but on the other [three] lines as well,” Williams explained. “We’re able to fill out those lines very comfortably when he’s in there.”
Gaborik quickly moved from trying to fit in, to developing and building chemistry with Kopitar and Williams, with a large degree of success. So much so that even Kings defensemen are taking notice.
“It seems like that line is starting to find some chemistry together, which will be really, really nice,” said veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell. “They move the puck well, and Kopitar is so strong on the puck.”
“Kopitar, I think, is probably the best two-way player in the game right now,” added Mitchell. “He’s good with the puck, probably a passer first, shooter second, so that’s a good mix with Gaborik. Kopi and Stick (Williams) have always played well together. It seems to be a good mix there.”
“The one thing that I’m impressed with is how quickly he, Kopitar and Williams have developed some chemistry,” Martinez noted. “He’s a really good skater. He’s made a lot of plays by moving his feet, and he’s got that really good shot. He’s got the good playmaking abilities, but he’s also come up big for us numerous times, especially in the past couple of games, on breaking up plays [on defense], backchecking hard and having a good stick.”
Gaborik had a reputation of not being very conscientious about his defensive play, but Mitchell put that to rest.
“The general feeling around here is that he had a bad rap because he scores goals, and he likes to score goals, so he can’t play defense,” said Mitchell, who was Gaborik’s teammate with the Minnesota Wild, led at the time by head coach Jacques Lemaire. “But if you look at him out there, he’s made some really good plays for us, backchecking, plays along the wall, plays with the puck.”
“When you have seven years of [playing for] Lemaire, you’re not going to be that bad defensively, right? You have one of the best teachers in the game, as far as defensive play [is concerned].” added Mitchell. “You’re going to be fairly decent at it.”
“It’s a fine line. To score goals, you have to read when to cheat, and when not to cheat. Sometimes, that’s not going to work, and sometimes, it is. I think Marian has a good mix of that, and so far, he’s been terrific for us.”
Mitchell provided an example of Gaborik’s commitment to defense.
“He’s a good talent,” said Mitchell. “You’ve seen the goals he scored. He can shoot the puck. It comes off his stick really quick. [But] in the last game [against the Winnipeg Jets on March 29], the play I think about is actually a power play where we turned the puck over, and it was a two-on-one the other way. He caught the guy in about five strides.”
“Maybe I notice that because I know what he can do with the puck, and scoring goals,” added Mitchell. “[Now] I’m seeing how his game has evolved since I played with him [in Minnesota]. He’s much more reliable, as a teammate, on that side of the puck.”
Although he has been committed to playing solid defense, Gaborik was acquired to score goals and give the Kings an offensive spark, and as noted earlier, he has done exactly that while playing on the top line with Kopitar and Williams.
“We’ve been clicking pretty well together, with him and Justin,” Kopitar observed. “We’re the type of line that likes to pass the puck around quite a bit. We’re not holding onto it for too long. Maybe that’s why it seems a little prettier on the ice. At the end of the day, most of the time, we get the job done. We’re going to have to continue to do that for us to be successful, and the other lines are going to have to keep playing like they’re playing right now.”
“The way he shoots the puck, you can give him the puck pretty much at any spot on the ice, and he’s going to be able to find something, or [create] something out of nothing, so it’s nice to have him there,” Kopitar added. “He’s more of a give-and-go guy than a puck possession guy, so he looks for me more often than not, or [Williams], for that matter. Justin and I like to hold onto it a little bit more. He finds us space to get open. It’s a good mix within the line.”
Gaborik’s teammates all talk about his shot and his speed.
“With his skill set you need to find ways to maximize that on the ice,” said Williams. “He’s got one of the best releases in the game, and he’s one of the fastest players in the game. Whether it’s stretch passes to him, finding him in the high slot, or quick give-and-go’s, those are things that are going to help him [to] help us.”
As reported earlier, Gaborik has also been a big positive for the Kings’ power play.
“We’ve had some success [on the power play], as of late, and he’s a huge part of that,” said Martinez. “He’s one heck of a hockey player. He’s been a good addition to our team, both on and off the ice. He’s a great guy, and he fits in really well with us.”
“It’s no secret how good he is out on the ice,” added Martinez. “He scored a couple of really big goals for us, especially on the power play, so he’s a great addition.”
When asked about how well and how quickly he has meshed with his new teammates, Gaborik shrugged before talking about playing the “right way.”
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “It takes awhile to get used to the system, and as I mentioned before, this team works really well, in terms of the system. Everybody works really well together. Everybody is on the same page. Everybody trusts each other. It’s like one big machine. I just tried to fit into the system, and play the right way, on both ends of the ice.”
“I’m just trying to go out there, have fun, and play within the system,” he added. “I’m trying to use my speed, and I’ve created some chemistry with Kopitar and Williams. Give-and-go plays work really well.”
The one, big potential risk with Gaborik is that he has been plagued by injuries throughout his NHL career, having played a full season just once with the 2011-12 New York Rangers.
Having been injured about as often as Gaborik, Williams can empathize, but pointed out that attitude is the key.
“It only becomes a negative if you allow it to affect you,” Williams stressed. “Whether you deserve it or not, when you have injuries, and you have a few in a row, you’re going to get labeled. It’s tough to shed the label, but all you’ve got to do is go out, be consistent, play hard, and you won’t have to think about it anymore.”
“It’s a tough league, and guys get hurt,” Williams added. “I’ve put that behind me. I don’t even want to think about any of that stuff anymore, and I’m sure Gaborik doesn’t either. The more you think about it, I say, there’s a better chance you’ll get hurt. You go out there, use your instincts, and play your hardest. Hopefully, it won’t happen.”
Williams and Gaborik share something else, too.
“We’ve played the same amount of years in this league,” Williams observed. “We came in same draft, so I’ve seen a lot of his game.”
“I know he’s looking to, [over] the next few months, and potentially, the next few years, solidify himself [as being] back among the top players in this league. He’s capable of doing that.”
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