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?