Name: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
Height/Weight: 6 foot 3, 227 pounds
Seasons with the Kings: 6
What’s his role? Playoff teams need consistent playmakers and Kopitar fits that description like the skates on his feet. He glides like the wind, shoots with power and precision and slides passes into areas not much bigger than a shoebox. His large frame allows him to protect the puck along the boards, and his on-ice awareness makes him one of the top two-way centers in the league. A two-time All-Star selection and the first Slovenian to play in the NHL, Kopitar hasn’t scored fewer than 20 goals or 60 points in a season since he debuted as a rookie with the Kings in 2006-07. Even more amazing, he’s still just 25 years of age.
What has he done lately? Kopitar has scored at least one point in 11 of 14 playoff games this spring and has totaled six goals and nine assists overall. As the Kings have marched deeper into the playoffs, Kopitar has continued to heat up, totaling five goals and six assists in the last eight games. He has been a key component on L.A.’s stifling penalty-kill unit, even scoring his second shorthanded goal of the playoffs Tuesday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference final against the Coyotes. He’s plus-13 for the postseason, tying him with linemate Dustin Brown for the league lead, and he’s seventh among all NHL forwards in average ice time this postseason at 22:09 a game.
Where will you find him on the ice? What makes Kopitar so valuable to the Kings is he plays all 200 feet of the ice. He’s just as skilled at swiping the puck in the defensive end as he is at setting up a teammate with a perfect pass from the side wall. He’s one of the primary faceoff artists on the team, and is a special teams extraordinaire. Not only does he man the No. 1 power-play unit, but when the Kings need to kill a 5 on 3, he’s the man in the middle of the ice.
What does he do best? Outside of Dustin Penner, nobody is better at creating space on the Kings than Kopitar. He has the rare double-edge sword of being able to maintain possession in tight quarters and still create scoring chances. He’s especially dangerous behind an opponent’s net, using his big frame and the end boards to protect the puck. His power and foot speed allows him to spin off opponents and his quick hands can release the rubber in the blink of an eye, usually putting it right where he's aiming.
Another comparable athlete: The New York Giants of the NFL were only as good as Eli Manning last season. Much can be said about L.A. and Kopitar. Like the Kings, the Giants underachieved during the regular season and nearly missed the playoffs. They slipped in, Manning got hot and they rode him to Super Bowl title. Kopitar won’t have to put the Kings on his back the way Manning did, there’s too much talent in L.A. for that, but when Kopitar’s playing well, the Kings have a much better chance of winning. Not surprisingly, both have been playing well for three months now.