GLENDALE – Lauri Korpikoski
is poised to have a breakout season in 2011-12. Make that another breakout season.
Playing with newfound confidence in his third NHL campaign, Korpikoski solidified himself as league player in 2010-11 by notching 19 goals and 21 assists in 79 games. Only Shane Doan
scored more goals than Korpikoski among the Coyotes and only defenseman Adrian Aucoin
had a better plus/minus rating; Aucoin was plus-18 and Korpikoski was plus-17.
Beyond those stats, Korpikoski excelled as a penalty killer and earned the team’s annual Hardest Working Player Award – as voted by the fans.
“Playing on the PK is one of the reasons that I’m in the NHL and it’s a big part of my game,” Korpikoski said. “I like it. And I’ve scored a few goals on the PK, too, so it’s not a problem for me because I enjoy it. I take a lot of pride in the PK - blocking shots and stuff like that. I just want to be a good overall player.”
Two weeks into training camp, Korpikoski appears ready to take his game to the next level. Several every-day observers will argue he has been the best player on the ice during the preseason.
I really feel confident and (I’m) looking forward to playing a lot of minutes and being a core player on the team and building from last year." - Lauri Korpikoski
Head Coach Dave Tippett is among those who think Korpikoski can elevate his game even more in 2011-12.
“I expect him to continue to grow on last year,” Tippett said. “He's a very valuable player for us. He can play a lot of situations, plays the game very fast. In today's game, you have to have players like that."
Korpikoski entered last season as a third- or fourth-line forward who had tallied just 25 points in 139 games with the New York Rangers (2008-09) and the Coyotes (2009-2010). But as the 2010-11 season progressed, so did Korpikoski’s game and he became a key contributor to Phoenix’s march to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This year, the Coyotes are expecting Korpikoski to again contend for the team’s goal-scoring title. They also are expecting the speedy winger to fill in at center if needed. For example, barring a late change in plans, Korpikoski will play center in Thursday’s exhibition game at Calgary.
“I’m really excited for this season to start,” Korpikoski said. “I just want to start off where I finished last year. I really feel confident and (I’m) looking forward to playing a lot of minutes and being a core player on the team and building from last year. I’m really excited to get it going.”
Korpikoski enters the season with a new two-year contract, the terms of which were agreed upon literally minutes before he and the Coyotes were scheduled to sit down with a salary arbiter.
The last-minute deal was good for both sides, he said.
“I talked to (Coyotes General Manager) Don Maloney before the arbitration and we were both in really good spirits about it and acknowledged that it’s just the business side of it,” Korpikoski said. “There was no bad blood or anything like that. We got it done face-to-face in just a few minutes, and that was it. I guess that’s how it goes sometimes, but it was good to get it done for two years. Now I can just concentrate on hockey again.”