EL SEGUNDO, CA — Don’t look now, but with 80 points so far this season, Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar needs just one more point to match his career high in points, set in the 2009-10 season when he scored 34 goals and added 47 assists for 81 points in 82 games.
Through 71 games this season, Kopitar ranks eighth in the National Hockey League in overall scoring, with 29 goals and 51 assists for 80 points, with a +16 plus/minus rating, 16 penalty minutes and a 53.9 percent face-off win percentage.
When you consider that Kopitar is enjoying the best season of his NHL career, the fact that he has been the Kings’ best player all season long, and that he has been more than solid in all three zones, not just in the attacking zone, it’s no wonder that there has been serious talk about him being a candidate to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player this season.
Although Kopitar is not currently the leading candidate—that’s probably Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov, who has led the league in scoring pretty much all season long—given the fact he’s more than an offensive force, Kopitar should indeed get serious consideration.
Kings head coach John Stevens made the case for his team’s captain.
“Who’s more important to their team in the league than he is to ours,” he asked. “I think his performance has been outstanding. He’s a key guy in every situation you can imagine in a hockey game. He provides leadership to our team, he produces offensively, he’s a premier penalty-killer in our league, face-off guy, power guy, skill guy. I don’t see any reason he shouldn’t be in that conversation.”
Defenseman Alec Martinez has played with Kopitar throughout his own NHL career.
“I think Kopi has been a really good player for a really long time,” he said. “He’s a superstar in this league, and I think—I’ve said it a lot. I don’t think he gets the credit, or it has to do with the exposure—the east coast bias. But if he was playing in New York, he would be one of the big faces of the league, not to say that he isn’t here. He certainly is.”
“The guy is unbelievable, he really is,” added Martinez. “I think he’s worth every penny that he’s paid. He does it in all areas of the ice. He battles hard defensively and produces a lot offensively. Sometimes, a guy who produces that way, as you often find this league, not that they don’t care, but they don’t focus as much on their own end. But Kopi is certainly an exception to that.”
As Martinez indicated, Kopitar is a complete player who is known as much for his defensive play as he is for his offensive abilities. But the fact that he is in the midst of a career year offensively is drawing most of the attention.
When Kopitar was asked what’s behind his offensive production this season, he shrugged.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve felt like I’ve always had it in me. Sometimes, it’s [just] a matter of putting it together. I guess I’ve done a pretty good job this year.”
One reason for Kopitar’s dramatically increased offensive output is that he has shot the puck more this season. To illustrate, last season, he had 150 shots in 75 games, an average of 1.97 shots per game.
This season, Kopitar has shot the puck 173 times in 71 games, an average of 2.44 shots per game—an increase of 0.47 shots per game more than last season—he’s on pace to shoot the puck 39 times more this season.
Shooting the puck more this season has made Kopitar more dangerous and more effective in the offensive zone. But he indicated that he hasn’t made a conscious effort to do so.
“I’ve always said all along that I’ll make the plays that I think that are there,” he noted. “Maybe last night [a 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings on March 15 at Staples Center in Los Angeles], on the 2-on-1, I should’ve probably shot that. But the game is quick, so when I make up my mind, that’s what I try to do. I’m always going to [make] the play that I think is the right play. Sometimes, it doesn’t necessarily end up being the right play, but it is what it is, really.”
“I wouldn’t say that I put a lot more emphasis on shooting the puck,” he added. “Sometimes, it’s just a matter of looking at the net, seeing what’s there, and then, maybe making the play later.”
No matter the reason for what will be career numbers, Kopitar’s play this season has been more than impressive.
“He’s probably the most complete player I’ve ever played with, at that position,” Martinez noted. “I can’t say enough about the guy, and to have him getting the amount of points and the production that he’s had this year, I’d be lying if I said that I was surprised because we all know what he’s capable of. He’s an absolute fixture on our hockey club. He’s key to our success.”
Back to the Hart Trophy talk…for his part, Kopitar isn’t thinking about winning the award. Instead, he’s focused on a much more immediate priority.
“It’s all great, but it’s the time of the year when the team game [is what] matters,” he emphasized. “Two points for our team [is what] matters. I was really happy that we got the two points [against Detroit], staying in the race and [keeping their heads] above water. But we’ve got to keep it going.”
“If [winning the Hart Trophy] happens, great,” he added. “If it doesn’t, it is what it is. There’s guys around the league who are playing good hockey, too, so I’m sure multiple Hart [Trophies] could be given out.”
“We’re trying to make the playoffs here. That’s where my head’s at.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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