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Anze Kopitar has Put Together an MVP Season for the LA Kings

The All-Star center has put the Kings on his back on both ends of the ice, which has put him in the middle of the Hart Trophy race

by Josh Cooper @JoshuaCooper / LAKings.com

There are few players in the NHL like Anze Kopitar.

The LA Kings captain is in the midst of a career year where he has been able to put up big offensive numbers without sacrificing any of his defense. He's already established career highs in goals (35), assists (54) and points (89).

In the process, he helped keep the team in the middle of a playoff race as it dealt with the absence of Jeff Carter for 55 games.

"Usually when you look at winning teams, they have players like (Kopitar)," Kings Coach John Stevens said. "Kopi, I think he's a dominant player in the league."

The All-Star center's value to the Kings is higher than any other player in the league this season.

Does that make him a candidate for the Hart Trophy?

"Absolutely," Stevens said to LA Kings Insider. "I'll ask you a question. Who's more important to another team in the league than he is to ours?

Video: Anze Kopitar's had an MVP 2017-18 season


Two-Way Hockey

Kopitar is the only player in the NHL with over 80 points who is averaging over two minutes of penalty kill ice-time per-game -- the top PK unit in the NHL.

Only one other player in the top-10 in the NHL in scoring, Winnipeg's Blake Wheeler (100:37), has hit 100 minutes on the penalty kill total. Kopitar has played a total of 173:40.

And he's done that while leading the Kings to the best penalty kill in the NHL at 85.0 percent, and the fewest goals allowed per game (2.448).

Kopitar ranks highest among the top-10 scorers in the NHL in defensive zone starts at 35.67 percent, via Corsica Hockey. He also ranks the lowest in offensive zone starts at 34.09 percent, meaning he has the hardest assignments, yet he's still driving offense for the Kings.

Kopitar also leads all forwards in total ice-time with 1,723:29.

"I think Kopi's been a dominant player for us all year. But it's not an 'offensive player' - he's a dominant player on both sides of the puck," Stevens said.

Tweet from @MikeKellyNHL: Combining metrics like stick checks, blocked shots & blocked passes - Anze Kopitar has made more successful defensive plays than any forward this season, averaging over 9 per game. He's 6th in scoring with 88 points. Last season, he averaged 8 per game and had 52 points.

Said defenseman Drew Doughty, "Most of those high-scoring guys are going to be one-dimensional and Kopi's not."


Offensive Value

Kopitar's 89 points are 32 more than Doughty, who is second on the team in scoring with 57. This point differential between first and second ranks third in the NHL, behind New Jersey's Taylor Hall (+36) and Edmonton's Connor McDavid (+35).

With his 89 points, Kopitar has factored in on 39.4 percent of the Kings' 226 goals this season.

Tweet from @drosennhl: Anze Kopitar is 6th in the NHL in scoring and has a point on 39.6 percent of the Kings' goals (88 of 222). He also leads all NHL forwards in total ice time (1,699:13). We should be talking about Kopitar for the Hart Trophy more than we are on a national level.

Kopitar has scored 11 more goals than the next closest player on the Kings (Tyler Toffoli), and his 35 goals are most by a Kings player since 2006-07.

"There's no question he's carried the load," Stevens said.


Performing in the Clutch

Kopitar has come up big in important moments for the Kings. In his past 14 games, he's scored eight goals and notched 19 points. His 38 points since the All-Star break are tied for third in the NHL.

His four-goal game against the Colorado Avalanche on March 22 gave the Kings a much-needed victory against a team it was fighting against to make the postseason. 

Video: LAK@COL: Kopitar tallies career-high four goals

His six game-winning goals also lead Los Angeles.

Kopitar has won big face-offs, like his clean victory on the road against the Boston Bruins that led to Toffoli's OT goal with 0.4 seconds left.

Video: LAK@BOS: Toffoli wins it with less than a second left

In February, he beat Toews on a late draw in Chicago to seal a win.

The next night in Winnipeg, he defeated Bryan Little on three straight face-offs to help LA to back-to-back road wins.

"When I was kind of younger coming into the league he was one of the guys that I wanted to watch because he was able to play in the league at such a young age right away and have success," Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. "He's big and he can skate, and he can do a lot of different things and he's obviously well aware defensively, so he does it all I guess."


Makes the Kings Better

When Kopitar is on the ice, the Kings are a better team.

His shot attempts relative percentage 5-on-5 is plus-2.90, meaning the Kings attempt more shots when he's on the ice than when he's not.

The Kings have scored 110 goals when Kopitar is on the ice, versus allowing 70 goals, good for a plus-40 differential. This ranks second on the team behind linemate Dustin Brown, who holds a plus-51 goal differential.

"The pride Kopitar takes in the 'without the puck' situations may be the biggest part of his game," Kings broadcast analyst Jim Fox said. "Although he has basically led the Kings in scoring since he was drafted by them, he will not cheat for his offensive chances. He has great offensive instinct and skill, but his attention to every detail when defending and his never-ending energy to prevent the opposition from scoring, is on par, if not greater than his offensive ability."


Efficiency

This season, Kopitar has figured out ways to up several areas of his game.

His 54.2 face-off percentage is a career-high and his 18.0 shooting percentage is also a career best.

"He's big, he's a big body. He does all the right things with the puck," Nashville Predators forward Ryan Hartman said. "He starts with the puck, he's really good in the face-off circle, so you start chasing the puck around."

In so many ways, Kopitar's continued evolution in his 12th year in the NHL has has resulted in the best season of his career.

And that has been no easy feat for a player long considered one of the best in the NHL.

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