LA Kings: Anze Kopitar is the most under appreciated player in the NHL

LA Kings (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)
LA Kings (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images) /

Despite all of his achievements, Anze Kopitar of the LA Kings continues to be ignored by most of the hockey press.

Anze Kopitar entered the NHL in the 2006-07 season, and the LA Kings superstar made an immediate impact – putting up 20 goals and 41 assists for a total of 61 points. This performance would earn him a fourth-place finish in the Calder Trophy voting as rookie of the year, behind winner Evgeni Malkin, Paul Stastny, and Jordan Staal.

In each of the next ten seasons, Anze Kopitar would post more than 61 points (he was extrapolated to score more than 61 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season). During that time, Kopitar also developed into a premier defensive center in the NHL. He was finally recognized for those efforts by being awarded the Selke Trophy for the 2015-16 and 2017-18 seasons. Despite being a main component in the LA Kings 2012 and 2014 championships, Kopitar never seemed to get recognition in the hockey world that he deserved.

The closest Kopitar has come to being recognized for his individual greatness was after 2017-18, when he finished third in the voting for the Hart Trophy as the league MVP. Despite scoring 92 points and winning the Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward in the league, he was beaten out by Nathan MacKinnon and winner Taylor Hall.

For his career, Anze Kopitar has scored 337 goals, 634 assists and has an overall +/- of +79 in 1,084 games played. Not many NHL players have Kopitar’s combination of longevity to go with his offensive and defensive prowess. Still, two that do compare are Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Boston’s Patrice Bergeron. Both are, in this writer’s opinion, much more recognized than Kopitar, but how do their career statistics stack up?

Center Jonathan Toews is the rock-solid foundation of a Chicago Blackhawks team that won three Stanley Cups from 2010-2015. For his career, “Captain Serious” has scored 345 goals to go with 470 assists and an astounding overall +193 in 943 games played. His accolades include three Stanley Cups, one Conn Smythe Trophy, one Selke Trophy, and one Mark Messier Leadership Award, although curiously the highest he has ever finished in the Hart Trophy voting was fourth in 2013.

In 2017, he was voted one of the greatest 100 players of all time during the NHL centennial celebration. Offensively, Toews’s best season was in 2018-19, when he scored 35 goals and 46 assists for 81 points. Toews has yet to play this season due to a medical condition.

Perhaps comparing even more closely with Kopitar is Boston Bruins superstar center Patrice Bergeron. Like his counterpart on the LA Kings, Bergeron is considered the epitome of the “two-way” center. Bergeron’s career offensive numbers are 359 goals and 528 assists to go with a mind-blowing overall +/- of +204 in 1,104 games played.

He has one Stanley Cup to his credit to go with four Selke Trophies.  In a testament to his defensive prowess, Bergeron has finished in the top three for Selke Trophy voting an amazing nine straight seasons. Centering Boston’s “Perfection Line” with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron’s best offensive season came in 2018-19 when he scored 32 goals and 47 assists for a total of 79 points.

Despite having numbers and achievements that will most certainly put him in the Hockey Hall of Fame someday, Kopitar, for the most part, has spent his career in relative obscurity. The LA Kings Captain is certainly not a flashy player – and I mean that in a good way. If there is one thing Anze Kopitar is not very good at, it’s drawing attention to himself.

You will never find a quote from him being pasted in the opposing team’s locker room, and again, that’s a good thing. Perhaps, however, his quiet, calm demeanor has made it easy for the hockey world to overlook him – but the LA Kings and their fans wouldn’t have him any other way.

Another factor that could contribute to Kopitar’s relative anonymity is that over half of his games start after 10:00 pm EST.  While hockey has grown by leaps and bounds in the western half of the United States over the past 30+ years (has it really been that long since Gretzky was traded to LA?), the fact is a majority of the hockey press is still located in the eastern half of North America. When you consider most of the east coast is asleep by the time a majority of Kopitars games are at the first intermission, I’m sure it contributes to him sometimes being forgotten.

With four goals and seventeen assists, Anze Kopitar once again leads the LA Kings in scoring and is currently ninth in the NHL in that category. Once again, unless you follow the Kings, you wouldn’t know it.

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At 33 years old, Kopitar is still operating at an elite level and shows no signs of slowing down – he is currently on a seven-game streak of having at least one point. Names like Crosby, Bergeron, and Toews are used when mentioning the best players of that past decade – it’s time for the rest of the world to include Kopitar in that group.