Here’s the feature I wrote on Anze Kopitar for LAKings.com. Thanks for reading!
Also, in those process of doing this story, I got an enormous volume of quotes from Dean Lombardi about Kopitar. I thought it would be good to transcribe them and share them, because they give some insight into the way the Kings have tried to develop Kopitar and his game. Click below for a very long read, but, I think, an interesting one…
Question: When you look at Kopitar’s game, what has changed most?
LOMBARDI: “It’s probably three or four things. He made a commitment to come back to work with his teammates, and ultimately it’s the response he made to his teammates that’s important. Sure, I called him out. Sure, I was irritated. I said, all along, that no matter who we acquired, the No. 1 priority was for him to step up and take another step toward matching up with Getzlaf and these guys. There’s that test, in between, that shows you really want it by making that commitment like he did in the offseason. I think he responded to his teammates. Like I’ve said all along, you started to see the culture change in the summer. We was a big part of it, when he came back. So that’s first.
“Secondly, I think this is the fit. There’s two things that Ryan does. He’s a fit. Kopi has never had a player like that on his wing. I don’t mean… Sure, Ryan is a hell of a player, but it’s the way he plays the game. The smart plays Ryan makes, unless you know the game you’re probably not coming out of your seat, but it’s going to the net, opening up space. That’s point two.
“Three, I think Ryan’s a pro. Ryan is known as a winner, and the best teacher is the power of imitation. We haven’t seen Kopi go to the net, like he did against Pronger (in his NHL debut) in two years. Think about what Ryan Smyth did in that first exhibition game. He went right around a guy on the outside. It was like what Kopitar did to Pronger, and he does it every time he gets a chance. I’ve got to believe that when I see Kopitar going to the net like that, as much as coaches and managers push, there’s no better push than to see a teammate do it. Then it’s like, `Oh yeah, I remember how to do that.’
“It’s all part of the team responding to each other. That’s most important. Greenie and those guys set that all up, and I think that’s where Kopi proved that he’s ready to take a step, and went out and did something about it. We always knew he had potential, and now he’s starting to reach his potential. He had always showed the potential to be a great player. Now show me a winner. You’re starting to see some signs like that, that I find most encouraging. I see signs that he not only has the potential to be a great player, but that he has the potential to be a winner. He just has to keep pushing in that direction.”
Question: A lot has been made of the fact that you challenged him at the end of last season. What exactly did you tell him? What was the message you tried to give him?
LOMBARDI: “They’ve got to believe, first off, that you want them to be the best they can be, that you really care about seeing them reach their potential. That just doesn’t happen in one conversation. We’ve had numerous conversations, whether it was showing him tapes of Bobby Clarke or Bobby Orr, or talking about Derek Jeter. Because the other thing is, unlike Doughty — and I challenge him with this, in a nice way — Kopi has never had to win. A Canadian kid, when he comes up, particularly in the World Juniors, they are exposed to the pressure of being expected to win. So they show you, at a certain time in their career, whether they have the ability to win and rise to the occasion. They have enormous expectations, and he didn’t. So you can take the challenge, which you have that the Canadian boys don’t, and recognize it, because you’re going to have to match up with Getzlaf and Stastny.
“That’s as big a part as him growing physically, is accepting the mental challenge. I can remember sitting there, putting in the story of Bobby Clarke that was on TV. Great stuff, gets you wired the whole way, when he talks about team and leadership. It was a great thing that was on the Canadian network that I taped, and it was almost like we were teaching him what the Canadian kid learns when he’s 8 years old. But he’s a lot of fun. He can sit in my office and he’s one of those kids that, when he gets in the office, time just flies by. I don’t think it’s any one thing. During the year, it’s a pat on the back. Sometimes all you have to say is, `Give me some Jeter.’ The reason I thought the kid had a chance is because I really believed that he cared. There have been better men than him that got a little sideways once they got a taste of the big life. But I don’t see that in him.
“Don’t forget, too, he’s in average shape now. He’s still got even more room to grow in that area. He’s just now becoming average. He was so out of shape before, the way he would come to the bench gassed and everything else, that he’s even got room there. The other thing is, he had shown that, even on a bad team, he could score big goals. Think of the Dallas games, and the games in which he scored late in games. I can remember four or five where this wasn’t a kid getting his numbers when you’re up 4-0 or down by six goals. I remember thinking, `Oh, there’s a sign that this kid has it in him, that he’s not a pad-the-stats guy.’
“Also, there’s the old Russian thing about watching a guy’s reaction, and watching his teammates, when the guy scores. You find out if he’s really for the team or for himself. I think this guy genuinely scores for the team. Unquestionably, he scores for the team. You might think, `What do you mean? Everybody does.’ No. There are a lot of guys who, when they put the puck in, the first thing they think is, `This is great for me.’ I think this guy scores for the team, like Clarke did. The great ones all score first for the team, then they say, `Oh, I like my numbers.’ Big difference.”
Question: Were you trying to bring that out of him a little when you made him part of the leadership group last year?
LOMBARDI: “Yeah, Murph and I talked about that and I have mixed feelings on that. You think about the guys on our team who have arguably been leaders. You have Brownie, Stolly, OD — although OD is getting older — so it was something where you have to build leadership. Was he, in a perfect world, ready for it? No, but I did think it was in him. You see if with other players, and they try to put the `C’ on them and hope they can bring it out of them. I don’t think that works. I really don’t. Teams still have to find a de facto leader, and it really doesn’t change the guy.
“In Kopi’s case and in Brownie’s case, it’s different. It’s not that they don’t have it. It remains to be seen, but it’s not like some guys you look at, and you know they don’t have it. These guys, I think it’s in there, but they have a lot of maturing to do. So that was another way to challenge him. Number one, you’ve got to get your butt in shape. That was an easy one, and he did it. So we’re right on the assumption that it’s in there, so let’s get it out of him. I think it was more that this is the group we want to lead the team, and we think it’s in them, but we also recognize that there’s a lot of growing to be done.”