A first look at…Kopitar

The poll results are close at wing, but it seems that Anze Kopitar is your overwhelming favorite to be the Kings’ first-line center. So for that reason, and because today is Kopitar’s 22nd birthday, let’s start with him.

Perhaps no Kings forward had a more difficult-to-figure 2008-09 season than Kopitar. Some fans wondered where the offense went. Terry Murray demanded better defense. Dean Lombardi wanted him to eat fewer of those famous Kopitar pancakes and get in better shape. Quite a bit for a 21-year-old third-year player to take in.

The reality, whether it’s completely fair or not, is that Kopitar, as the Kings’ highest-paid player, is going to have to be all things to all people. Murray is a defense-first coach, and has to feel comfortable using Kopitar in all situations, but as a first-line center, Kopitar must contribute more than the 66 points he totaled last season (down from 77 the previous season).

Did Kopitar feel pressure, in his first season with the big contract and as an alternative captain? Perhaps, and perhaps he was hampered by Murray’s season-long quest to find satisfactory lines, which might have impacted Kopitar’s ability to develop chemistry with teammates.

Kopitar’s talents, particularly his strength on the puck and vision, are tremendous. Lombardi publicly called out Kopitar at the end of last season, and during the summer, about being in better shape. If Kopitar shows that improvement, will it take him over the hump and help him become an elite player?

What do you think? Is there any concern about Kopitar, or is his development right on schedule?

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  • Cynic

    If Kopi makes his pancakes with Protein Powder instead of flour, the concern might go down. Don’t know if Grandma will approve though…

    With all the concern about his age, and since most of us feel he’s still learning, the FIRST thing Dean should be doing is introducing Anze to any similar top level elite veteran player in the NHL making over 6 mil a year that Dean has respect for. We don’t have anyone here for Anze to learn from, not even Smyth, as I think Anze’s talent is a cut above his. Conduct certainly, but performance expectation? Smyth and Anze are different players with different expectations so that doesn’t work.

    Anze needs to understand he is now an ELITE player in terms of salary, but now he has to prove to everyone he is worthy of that ELITE salary. Pschyologically, Anze excels when he’s challenged. He excelled in Sweden when people told him he wouldn’t as young as he was. He excelled in his rookie season with the Kings when nobody expected he would. On top of all this, mentally, Anze is an EXTREMELY appreciative person by nature. I’m sure he knows what is expected of him, I just hope he can handle ELITE pressure. That’s really my only concern.

    It wouldn’t hurt to see Anze come into camp ripped though…

  • Brooklyn King

    I think Kopi is on schedule. I also agree with DL’s assessment on needing him to be in better shape. Kopitar has shown that he can play in the league, and even have a little success. His natural abilities and size have made it easier for him, so maybe he just needs a little push. An extra stoke or two to the fire. If this team is going to make the playoffs and do anything, they have to be a little pissed off, have a chip on their shoulder, and be determined to pay the price. If not, we may or may not make it in, and we are going to be wondering which free agent can fill Frolov’s spot and how promising the 2010 draft is (which it actually is, 2011 not so much). It’s really up to the players at this point. DL has put together a fine group of players (aside from Zeiler) who should set the tone, and we should see a tight well bonded team this season.

  • nykingfan

    The fact that he’s only 22 today says an awful lot about the guy. We all consider him a veteran on this team and he’s still a young kid.
    Lets face it…prior to last season, he’s had it pretty easy since coming into the league. Last year he went thru a lot of adversity, yet kept his mouth shut and went out and played hard every night. He didn’t complain about being asked to think D first.

    I fully expect him to take the next step to becoming an elite player this year. The talent level is obviously there…TM has taught him about being a defensively responsible player. There’s no reason to believe that he won’t be the complete package.

    We’ll know a lot more when camp opens and we see what kind of shape he’s in. If he comes into camp in top shape, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be the superstar we all expect him to be this season.
    I’ve said it before…as Kopitar goes, so do the Kings…I think he’s that important to the club.

  • variable

    rich…

    on point w/yr analysis…i agree with everything you said…
    one point i would like to expand on…:

    “The reality, whether it’s completely fair or not, is that Kopitar, as the Kings’ highest-paid player, is going to have to be all things to all people.”

    i think you bring up a significant point and what i think might be a bigger issue for kopi internally than what’s been suggested…:

    what type of playe does kopi think he is and can be…?

    as a young, maturing and burgeoning offensive face of the franchise, kopi has had a tremendous amount of weight supplanted on his shoulders as he still continues his development…so far, he has handled it well…but now, after a season of which many would consider a step backwards due to his lower point production, kopi will be tested more so than he has ever been…and just “who” kopi is and what type of player he’s classified as, will be decided this season…

    he’s expected to be the franchise player on offense…and although i want kopi to be that top shelf center and be mentioned in the same breath as the crosby’s, malkin’s, zetty’s, datsyuk’s, etc., i’m unsure if his make up and design really fits that role…

    and let’s suppose he puts up about 85 points and lands amongst the league’s top 20 scoring leaders at season’s end and the kings make the playoffs…is that enough…?

    let’s suppose he puts up 100 points and the kings don’t make the playoffs…is that failure…?

    how about if he puts up 70 points and the kings make the cup finals…is that the next step…?

    i think with kopi, we are all looking and wanting to feel that sensation that when he’s on the ice, he’s going to make a positive difference every time…we want that confidence in him…we also want to be able to mention his name without the eternal conflict of waffling on his potential…

    is he a true no. 1…? is he a true no. 2…?
    or is he somewhere in between…?

    the reality is that the franchise, the fans and the nhl so want him to be that true no. 1 this year that they won’t settle for anything less…so if kopi can’t elevate his game this season to appease all parties, then he has more than just a team identity problem but a league one, as well…

    it’s much more than putting up points – it’s just as important that kopi resonates his potential and translates it into not just results, but an “aura”…a “presence”…is he going to have what this team, the fans and the league want…? is he everything we think he could be…?

    so what kopi is and what he’s expected to be will come to a head this year…and if for some reason kopi doesn’t deliver said expectations, then there will be much soul searching, tire kicking and second guessing by all involved and concerned parties…

  • KingFan4ever

    This season is a telling one for him. I can’t imagine him having another listless year like the last. I’ll chalk it up to that all too familiar sophomore slump and expect him to bounce back.

    He passed up the puck a little too much last season too. I’d really like to see him take those shots.

  • Cricket

    I feel good about Kopi coming into this season. I thought his second half last year was way better than his first, and in a year when almost everyone’s point production slipped, he still managed to get the most. Plus, now that the Kings have a legit top 6, and the top 9 looks pretty good too, there will be much less pressure on him. I also expect him to have taken the weight training seriously.

    All good things ahead, I predict.

  • Quisp

    Look at it this way. There are only four forwards in the league making more than Kopitar who are anywhere near his age, and that’s Ovechkin, Malkin, Crosby and Stall. Everyone else listed in the top cap hits going well down the list of the top 50 is much older.

    The closest cap hit to Kopitar’s is Iginla. Scott Neidermeyer, Datsyuk, Stastny, Briere, Kovalchuk, Marleau, the Sedins and Zetterberg all have a lower cap hit.

    Anything less than 35 goals and 85 points this season is a problem.

    As far as not complaining about being asked to play d first, that’s true of course. But all this talk of conditioning is specifically about the fact that, because he was asked to play better defense, he was too tired to have anything left to play offense. He couldn’t handle the workload. So his ice-time was reduced. And the over-all effect was lower numbers. Thus, get in shape. It’s not so much about being “ripped” as it is about cardio, endurance, etc..

  • MacSwede

    variable,

    I agree with you, hope he does not feel this too much so it hangs over him. Any player is best when he dont think too much.

    Regarding the pancakes. My wife is from Serbia, and I spent this summer there. And actually I am a little bit worried when I read that Kopitar is spending the summer in slovenia. I know how life is there, and I know the people. So I think it would be hard for him to get 100% focus on training there. A lot of friends who dont even know how to spell hockey will certainly hang out with him and take him to “non-training” activites… But, I would recommend him the 15 year old Sokolova ;)

    It is not like when the Checzs and Slovakians go home for the summer, they are going to hockey countries…

    I hope you get my point :)

  • TB

    This will be the break out season we’ve been waiting for with Kopitar. One thing that has been consistent with Kopi has been his ability to be a professional on and off the ice. My point is that as a professional, I trust that he will take the lessons from last season, and deliver on the request to be in better condition.

    Also, with the new options up front, I think he’s going to find his groove. having a guy like Ryan Smyth will encourage Kopi to play a more physical game. In my honest opinion, if he can model his physical game after Ryan Getzlaf, he can out-produce Getzlaf. Which in my opinion is really important since Getzlaf and the Ducks are our division rivals likely to be competing for the 8th playoff spot.

    The best part of all is that in his young age, and with the long term contract already handled, he can be focused 100% on hockey. I see it as a real blessing that DL has avoided any and all drama. Unlike some teams (sens, oilers, lightning, coyotes, etc). Kopitar has the opportunity to really break out and do it in a great enviornment that doesn’t make him think, “What if I played this well somewhere else?” a.k.a. Heatleyism.

    This is the year for Kopi. 100 point season? yes.

    p.s. CYNIC…Great point about his ELITE status and expectations. Dead on.

  • matey

    MacSwede…

    Please tell me how is life here in Slovenia! I would really like to hear it from you…

    btw, Happy birthday Kopi!

  • ziggy33

    I agree with nykingfan when he says “As kopitar goes so do the kings” This is a HUGE season for Anze to prove that he is not only a good player but an elite player. The hockey news preview just arrived today and NO LA Kings player made the top 50 NHL players list. We need Kopitar to be that #1 elite center. Personally, I think with a better cast around him Anze will have about 75 points at least this season. If he has another season like last year than he will probably be just be a very good second liner player who makes lots of cash.

  • JDM

    MacSwede,

    I don’t know any Slovenians, nor have I been to Serbia, however my lady is Serbski as well, so if your point is that Slovenians are like Serbians, I definately get your point. That said, I don’t know how much Slovenians really are like Serbians. They do like their Slivovitz though!

    I’m not worried about Kopitar. Since he first stepped on the ice and made Pronger look stupid, I knew Kopi was our future. I still am as confident as ever, in fact, moreso now that he has shown a willingness to adapt and work on his weak points, that Kopi will lead us to a future that is very bright. He will be a true star in this league soon enough. Sure I wanted more points from him last season, but I didn’t see any regression in his game, I just saw a young player trying to carry a crappy team on his back under a new coach.

    Kopitar will be fine.

  • Cynic

    Thanks TB-

    I’m gonna return the compliment though. I think your analogy regarding Ryan Getzlaf is dead on as well. I never thought of it that way, but to outshine him this season would be a perfect next step for Kopi. To do it though, Kopi needs a meanstreak. Maybe Rich should ask Anze one day if there is anything he dislikes in life that he can focus on when he needs to turn on the ‘Charm’ in a game and get a little dirty. Getz has that fire when he plays and Anze needs some of that. Maybe that is where Smyth can help him on the ice.

    Hey Matey, MacSwede doesn’t need my defense, but I get where he is coming from and by no means should you take it as a negative comment about Slovenia. I know everything I’ve seen and heard about Slovenia, especially Jesenice and Hrusica has been nothing but positive and beautiful. Believe me, I wanna go there someday it sounds so good! What MacSwede is saying is simply it is so comfortable for Anze there because it is so nice (And it’s home for the guy) that it will keep him from focusing on hockey the way Dean Lombardi and 1/2 the team who stayed in LA this summer is doing. I sold something on EBay to a guy in Hrusica recently and asked him about Anze at home. He knew all about him. Everyone there is very proud of him there and he’s treated like a celebrity (obviously). He’s young and away from his teammates to help him focus. That is where our concern lies. Believe me, Mac is NOT alone with this. Many of us did not like the fact that Anze is spending much of the summer at home. He’s getting about a 6 mil a year payraise, he’s an assistant captain, many of his teammates are spending the summer in LA and he is not. Hopefully it will not affect him. Longwinded, but I hope you understand that it’s about Anze and not Slovenia.

    Quisp – Wouldn’t you be even happier though if he DID come back ripped + the cardio? I’m just sayin…..

  • Scaught

    Kopi needs to be grittier at getting to the net. That’s about all he needs to do. He’s already a tank, so if he obliges Dean and shows up in better shape, expect him to have more points. Another problem may be that inferior linemates bring his game down, a la Randy Moss on the Raiders. The only one that comes close to his game is Frolov, but Froloaf, as we all know, tends to give in to lethargy far too often. Kopitar needs to carry this team. Period.

  • Hunter

    I also agreed with many of you,Kopi will have a better year… I feel with Fro’s grit and puck contoll abilities and with JW’s speed to open up more areas for Kopi,not to mention having Smyth on the PP will definitely get Kopi more points.But the 1 area that i think everyone has failed to mention is his +/- ratio…It was a -17 last year,so no matter how many points he’ll get you have subtract the – points… 66 – 17 = 49… Aswell for Doughty,JJ,Brownie.. – 172 as a team….But the team will be better this year…..

  • jet

    It is difficult to add to this sting of excellent commentary but let me throw out a quick thought. We had a pro athlete in the family and every year he would not pick up a tool of the trade for the first five weeks of the off season. He would only row a crew boat. He considered this time the start of the next season. He believed the mental aspect was more important than the physical part at his level and going back to his roots was essential to that mental recovery process.

  • JohnnyMaccaroni

    Anyone who’s comparing Serbians to Slovenians doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

  • Brown23

    To be an athlete you gotta live like an athlete by eating the right foods by balancing out your meals the right way. So if Kopitar needs to cut out his pancakes and so forth, then shall be it. But it is for the better and not the worse. But once he does that there and starts exercising more often than not, he is going to find himself more fit to where he has more energy and strength when it comes to him playing his game. So he would be more effective of a player because of his new routine diet and exercise.

    So Dean Lombardi may seem a little rough when calling out Kopitar to be in better top notch shape starting at the beginning of next season of the 2009-10 season. But when Kopitar has been given this huge contract as the highest paid player on the Kings team, you gotta raise them expectations when you talk about someone like Kopitar who we all know Kopitar is capable of doing.

    So with that being said above, Kopitar is on the right track in order to become that elite player. He just turned 22yrs old and is coming into his fourth year as a player this season. He just needs to also stay healthy, don’t let nothing being a distraction with the new contract or the “A” on the jersey, and put him with the right players onto his wing. He just needs to be himself when he comes to play hockey. That is all.

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