|2008 - Anze Kopitar
Most Frequent Linemates: Pretty much a mix of Dustin Brown, Alex Frolov, Kyle Calder and Patrick O'Sullivan
Last Season: It was not a good season for Anze Kopitar. My sister's going to be mad at me, since she has an unhealthy love of the Slovenian sniper, but he kind of... sucked. Well, let me qualify that: Kopitar sucked for the role he is expected to play on the Kings. Kopitar is supposed to be everything on the Kings. He's supposed to be the leading goal scorer, the leader on the power play, the engine that moves the team, everything. He wasn't last season, and maybe that's the Kings' fault. You can ask a lot of Kopitar, but you can't ask him to dominate play as a 21-year old kid. Kopitar was expected to be the best defensive forward on the team while also driving the offense, all against the Joe Thorntons and Ryan Getzlafs of the world. It was too much for him. It was also a good learning experience for him, and one that I think will benefit him immensely in the future.
When Kopitar was on the ice, everything was expected to go through him. Under Marc Crawford, Kopitar was expected to pretty much hang out around the blue line until he got the puck and then skate it up the ice; under Terry Murray, Kopitar was expected to cover all 180 feet of the ice, often creating a situation where Kopitar had the puck deep in his own zone and was forced to pass it out of the zone. That was a problem, because Kopitar is not a guy that excels without the puck. He's not that great in a half-court set, and he's not a great mover without the puck. He's a guy that needs to use his speed and his open ice stickhandling ability to get speed into the zone and then either take a shot or dish it off to a teammate. That's how he was able to do so well when he was 20. This season, Kopitar often had to skate all the way up the ice and hope Dustin Brown hadn't already shot the puck, then skate all the way back into the defensive zone to help his defense. That's why Dean Lombardi has been harping so much on Kopitar's conditioning; Anze's literally skating end-to-end 2 or 3 times a shift.
Another reason Kopitar didn't have the greatest of seasons was one that wasn't mentioned much but was obviously huge. He missed Lubo. He missed Lubo's outlet passes. He missed Lubo's shot. He missed Lubo's scent. I'm not going to look through Kopitar's points from the previous season because I'm incredibly lazy, but I bet you that a large number of those points are associated with Lubo in some way. This season, Kopitar was paired with Drew Doughty and Sean O'Donnell. In the future Doughty and Kopitar will do wonderful things together (and hopefully they'll let me watch and maybe record it), but for now Doughty is not Lubo. Man, I miss that guy.
The Future: Overall, Kopitar got a taste of what it's like to be a #1 guy and it didn't go so well. That's OK, though. Kopitar doesn't turn 22 until later this month and he has a long career ahead of him. Plus, he was only making rookie salary last year so it's not like he wasn't earning his money. That all changes next year though, when Kopitar starts collecting those $6.8 million dollar a year paychecks. Next season, Kopitar stops becoming good for a young guy and starts getting judged as a full-grown NHL'er. He'll most likely be paired with Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams, two guys that can do all the little things and allow Kopitar to focus on playing his game. I'm personally expecting Kopitar to top 80 points next year, and if he doesn't make a big step next year the Kings are in a lot of trouble. It may not be fair to put so much on the shoulders of Anze Kopitar, but it's what he has to deal with. Hopefully it's not too much.