Player evaluation: Kopitar
This season: 82 games, 25 goals, 51 assists, plus-12 rating.
The good: There had been some whispers of concern, at the start of the season, that Kopitar might not be at 100 percent following his summer of recovery from ankle surgery, but those concerns went away quickly when Kopitar had six goals and eight assists in his first 11 games. Kopitar then heated up at just the right time. In March, he totaled seven goals and 11 assists in 15 games, and in the playoffs he was consistently a top performer at both ends of the ice. Kopitar had eight goals and 12 assists in 20 playoff games, and his overtime goal in Game 1 against New Jersey will long be remembered as a springboard to the Stanley Cup.
The bad: Even in his sixth NHL season, Kopitar remained prone to long scoring slump. Of course, even the best NHL players go through them, but Kopitar’s numbers seem to swing more dramatically than most. He will be red-hot for a while, then go stone cold. In a 21-game stretch from Nov. 23 through Jan. 7, Kopitar scored one goal. That’s more than a quarter of the season, and a team just can’t have that from its No. 1 center. The Kings need to watch Kopitar’s minutes closely. Not only does he regularly play in excess of 20 minutes per game, but he plays tough minutes in all situations. They have to make sure he stays fresh.
Going forward: Kopitar turns 25 in August, and entering his seventh season he still seems to be right on the cusp of joining the NHL’s elite centers. His overall game has grown tremendously since his arrival, and Kopitar should finally start to get some serious attention for the Selke Trophy. Kopitar’s game reached new heights in the playoffs, and if he can keep it at that level, he will be recognized around the league as a top player. Much like Dustin Brown, Kopitar, as friendly and amiable a guy as there is in the NHL, should now be able to carry himself with the swagger of a champion and play with the confidence of a top No. 1 center.