Player evaluation: Kopitar
This season: 75 games, 25 goals, 48 assists, 20 penalty minutes, 22:11 average ice time.
The good: Kopitar completed his transition from talented scorer to high-level two-way player. Kopitar can still score, yes, but he can also match up definitively against the top centers of the Western Conference. He can kill penalties and he can be on the ice late in the third period with the Kings nursing a one-goal lead. Kopitar has made huge strides in these areas under coach Terry Murray and his staff, and Kopitar has also showed the ability to carry the team offensively for long stretches of the season.
The bad: Just when one believes that Kopitar is on the cusp of joining the handful of elite centers in the NHL, he goes into a baffling scoring slump. It has happened for two consecutive seasons, for no particular reason. This season, Kopitar was among the top 10 of NHL scorers for a while, but also went through a 20-game stretch (from December into February) in which he scored one goal. That’s still not elite-center stuff. It should go without saying that Kopitar’s late ankle injury was devastating.
Going forward: The Kings said all the right things about having a chance against San Jose in the first round. Truth be told, they were largely lost without Kopitar, who gives them important minutes in every single aspect of the game. Kopitar is only 23 and isn’t ready to carry the entire burden of the team, and shouldn’t have to carry it. If Dustin Penner can turn into a reliable scoring threat, or if the Kings can bring in a top scorer through free agency or a trade, Kopitar would benefit immensely.