As we approach the final week of our player evaluations, we move to the center-ice position, with team captain Anze Kopitar. We’ll conclude our list later this week with a look at two of Kopitar’s younger understudies, Gabriel Vilardi and Jaret Anderson-Dolan, before we officially put the 2020-21 season in the rearview mirror and fully turn our attention to upcoming events.
We’re approaching a busy stretch over the next few weeks, beginning with the submission of protected lists on July 17, followed closely by the expansion draft, NHL Draft and free agency, with the Kings still looking to add talent to the organization in one way or another.
NHL Statline – 56 games played, 13 goals, 37 assists, -7 rating, 10 penalty minutes
Possession Metrics (Relative To Without) – CF% – 51.7% (+5.4%), SCF – 48.2% (+4.7%), HDCF – 49.7% (+5.9%)
For much of the campaign, Kopitar flirted with his second point-per-game season at the NHL level, before settling in right around his career average, with 50 points from 56 games. You know what you’re going to get from captain consistency, on a night-to-night basis, and his presence in all three zones, all areas of the ice, has been discussed at length. Kopitar was rewarded with a major milestone moment late in the season, as he collected his 1,000th career NHL point, a worth recognition of a storied career.
“It’s remarkable, really, to get 1,000 points in the National Hockey League,” Kings Head Coach Todd McLellan said of Kopitar’s milestone. “We recognize 1,000 games and make it significant, which it should be, but 1,000 points, it’s remarkable.”
Trending Up – Less than 100 players in the history of the NHL have scored 1,000 points in the league……it’s a massive achievement for any player to achieve. But for Kopitar, to hit such a major milestone while also being a top-level defensive forward is that much more impressive. Kopitar is one of just seven players to win a Selke and record 1,000 points, and one of just three to win the Selke twice and hit four digits in the total points column.
While not a finalist this season, Kopitar’s play earned him votes for the Selke again, finishing 12th in the voting process. He lined up against the other team’s top lines whenever the Kings could set it up that way and was voted as one of the “NHL’s most complete players” in an NHLPA survey of players across the league earlier this summer.
“To [hit the 1,000-point mark] while you’re one of the best defensive players in the world throughout your career, I think is quite impressive,” McLellan said. “For him to be as consistent as he’s been, to play as well as he’s played on the other side of the puck, to check as well as he’s check…I think is an incredible milestone for him.”
Offensively, Kopitar led the Kings in assists (37) and points (50), making it 14 straight seasons he’s led the team in assists, and the 13th time in the past 14 seasons he’s led the team in points. At 1.21 first assists per 60 minutes, the Slovenia native posted the best rate of his NHL career, directly impacting more goals for teammates on a pro-rated basis than ever before.
Kopitar was also one of nine players in the one-off West Division to collect 50 or more points this season, and his 37 assists ranked fourth highest in the division, in a campaign where teams played only their divisional foes.
Possession metrics had Kopitar with the best rate amongst forwards, relative to his teammates, in both shot attempts and scoring chances. As you’d expect from your number one center, the Kings generated more opportunities, and allowed fewer, across the board when Kopitar was on the ice. Throw in one of many quotes praising Kopitar’s character and off-ice impact and you’ve got a pretty solid season.
Trending Down – There was a long stretch this season, writing post-game notes, where we’d see Kopitar mentioned as leading, or among the leaders, in the West Division in most offensive categories. He finished the season in the Top 5 in assists but had just 13 points from his final 26 games played. Seasons have highs and lows, ups and downs, and for the Kings as a whole, the second half was a down, which resulted in lesser offensive numbers.
While Kopitar’s possession metrics were top-end compared to his teammates, his numbers weren’t at his typically high standard. When factoring in Kopitar’s high relative rate, you can attribute some of that to the team overall, with the Kings ranking towards the NHL’s bottom in measured categories.
Even if he didn’t score at all in the final 26 games, Kopitar would have brought value to the Kings, as his defensive play and leadership abilities are consistently praised. Kopitar has been a point-per-game player just once in his NHL career to date, and perhaps the biggest disappointment for him was not finding a few more points down the stretch to turn that one into a two. With a few more secondary assists – he had a career-low 0.22 per 60 minutes this season at even strength – he might’ve gotten there.
2021-22 Status – Kopitar has three seasons remaining on his eight-year contract that runs through the end of the 2023-24 season. You don’t need me to tell you that Anze Kopitar isn’t going anywhere, but he’s not going anywhere, and you’ll see #11 centering the top line for the Kings at STAPLES Center in the fall.
The bigger question for Kopitar, looking ahead, is who exactly will flank him? Kopitar’s most common linemates this season were Alex Iafallo on the left, and Dustin Brown on the right, which is a line it’s been made known that Kopitar likes being a part of. That trio wasn’t as “attached at the hip” as seasons prior, however.
With Viktor Arvidsson now in the mix, Iafallo showing the ability to be productive on several different lines, the potential for further additions at forward and a couple of younger players pushing for roster spots, Kopitar’s linemates moving forward are a storyline to watch entering training camp.