Pavol Demitra didn’t spend much of his NHL career in Los Angeles, just enough to time to leave one of his lasting impressions.
Demitra, who was among those killed Wednesday in Russia when a plane carrying members of the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv hockey team crashed shortly after takeoff, played for the Kings during the 2005-06 season.
Despite missing 24 games because of injuries, Demitra still finished second on the team with 25 goals and third with 62 points. Perhaps the highlight of his stay came on Nov. 19, 2005, when he recorded the fourth hat trick of his career in a 4-3 victory against visiting Colorado, sending hats spiraling from the Staples Center crowd and onto the ice.
The third goal broke a 3-3 tie with 3 1/2 minutes remaining and was netted after Demitra's pass to Lubomir Visnovsky was blocked back to him by Colorado defenseman Karlis Skrastins, who was also on Wednesday's doomed flight.
Dustin Brown is the only player on last season’s roster who was on the Kings that season, but another former teammate, Hall of Fame forward Luc Robitaille, the Kings president of business operations, remembers Demitra living up to expectations right from the start.
“When he came to us he was going to be one of our top guys,” Robitaille told the L.A. Times. “He certainly didn't disappoint.”
Demitra was a three-time All Star and former Lady Byng winner when he signed with the Kings as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2005. His three-year, 13.5-million deal looked like a good investment when he entered the Olympic break tied for the team lead with 57 points, despite missing three weeks in January with a deep leg bruise.
However, he suffered nasal fractures and bleeding behind an eye when he was struck in the face with the puck while playing for his native Slovakia at the Olympic Games, then suffered a concussion in his first game back. He appeared in just eight games following the Olympics.
On daft day that June, he was traded to the Minnesota Wild for Patrick O’Sullivan, who was later part of a three-team trade that brought over current winger Justin Williams. Also included in the deal was the Wild’s No. 1 pick that year, Trevor Lewis, who is still a member of the Kings.
Demitra’s former agent, Rich Winter, told Edmonton’s Sports Radio Team 1260 that Demitra always had a fire in his eye, ever since he fell into the ninth round of the 1993 draft. He made the Ottawa Senators that fall and stuck around for parts of 15 more seasons.
“He committed to me the minute he was drafted that he would show these guys hard work and determination,” Winter said.
And he did. Only three players taken before Demitra have more goals in their career, Paul Kariya, Jason Arnott and Miroslav Satan.