LOS ANGELES -- The stories written when Marian Gaborik was traded from the New York Rangers to the Columbus Blue Jackets suggested it wasn't necessarily a surprise move. Gaborik was coming off a 41-goal season but was fighting inconsistency, so much so that Rangers coach John Tortorella sometimes demoted or benched him.
Gaborik saw it differently, though, when asked Tuesday about the first of two times he was moved at the NHL Trade Deadline.
"The first one was just kind of out nowhere, coming from New York to Columbus," Gaborik said.
Gaborik was traded, along with prospects, to Columbus in April 2013 for right wing Derek Dorsett, center Derick Brassard, defenseman John Moore and a sixth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. Tortorella told reporters he thought Gaborik would get back on track with the Blue Jackets. After another trade-deadline deal brought him to the Los Angeles Kings in March, Gaborik has become a major reason the Kings are facing the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final, which starts Wednesday at Staples Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
"It's been a pretty, I would say, roller-coaster year," Gaborik said. "Being in Columbus, being hurt and having injuries there, missing the Olympics, and then having been dealt to L.A. and playing in the Final. The scenario sounds a bit weird but I'm obviously healthy right now."
Gaborik's chemistry with Kings center Anze Kopitar has produced results far greater than what Jeff Carter brought to the Kings when he was acquired in similar fashion in 2012. Gaborik's 12 goals in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs are one more than he scored in 41 regular-season games. In Kings history, only Wayne Gretzky has scored more goals in a single postseason (15 in 1993).
The way Gaborik has fit in contradicts some pundits who didn't think the right wing's reputation as a me-first player would jibe in Los Angeles under coach Darryl Sutter, whose defensive system demands accountability at both ends of the ice. Gaborik simply didn't seem like the Kings' type of player, but his offensive upside certainly made sense for general manager Dean Lombardi to acquire him from Columbus on March 5 in a trade for forward Matt Frattin and a second-round pick in 2014 or 2015.
Lombardi knew Gaborik played for one of the most strident defensive coaches in modern-day hockey, Jacques Lemaire with the Minnesota Wild. Lombardi received good feedback from scout Alyn McCauley and assistant GM Rob Blake. It also was important to Lombardi that Gaborik would be accepted as something other than a hired gun, and the first weeks confirmed it.
"The most important thing was that this was a good teammate and was well-liked," Lombardi said. "Whenever you have a high-profile player of his caliber, to get back that from other players that have played with him is huge. And you go back to that, this guy cares.
"But the biggest thing that makes that work, particularly over a short period, is the way those guys in the room went out of their way to embrace him. Jeff Carter grabbed him and said, 'You're not staying in a hotel room.' He lands in Winnipeg, the first guy that grabs him is Mike Richards, [who told him], 'Let's go out for breakfast.' His acclimation, being part of this group, is such a tribute to the guys in the room that embraced him the right way. That made him feel a part of the family. And by virtue of that impresses upon him, 'Hey, this is the way we play here.'"
Gaborik is soft-spoken and doesn't reveal much of his personality, which fits into what Sutter in 2012 referred to as his group of "quiet, awesome guys." Those cups of coffee with Richards and time on Carter's couch went a long way to truly becoming part of the Kings.
"It was very important," Gaborik said. "This locker room is great. These guys helped me a lot to make me feel part of it. Me coming here, I wanted to fit in on the ice and off the ice. To fit into a winning culture, the winning locker room. This team has been a contender for the past few years, and to come here and contribute and be part of it has been great."
Gaborik's success in Los Angeles is not a surprise to former teammates who saw him produce two 40-goal seasons in New York.
Kopitar and Gaborik often find each other like they've been playing together since childhood, and Gaborik's deceptive speed contributes to the Kings' offensive surge. The Rangers see something else when they watch Gaborik.
"He works his butt off," New York forward Brian Boyle said. "The guy wants to compete and wants to win."
If Gaborik's memories of New York are fond, his low-key demeanor hides it. But he did say, "I had a lot of fun, great time. To come to the Big Apple and play there almost four full years, playing one conference final. I had a lot of good times."
Gaborik is in the final year of his contract and will be able to command a big payday given his production and seamless transition into the Kings' locker room. On the verge of his first Stanley Cup, he will play against former teammates on the biggest stage in hockey.
It's another turn in an oddly sublime season for Gaborik, who will face the Rangers for the first time since he came to Los Angeles.
"It's a little weird obviously," Gaborik said. "But it's something special; especially playing them in the Final makes it even more special. Going to [Madison Square] Garden for my first time to play them is going to be different. I'm going to take this opportunity and take it and just leave everything out there."
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