Gaborik has a great many talents, but it is his speed that makes him a game-changer. In addition to being one of the NHL’s fastest skaters, Gaborik is known for a quick wrist shot and his ability to make something spectacular happen in the blink of an eye. That fast and furious approach has been responsible for more than 300 goals – and counting - over the course of his 14-year NHL career.
“It's not only his speed, but he can really make something out of nothing on a broken play, turn it into a goal,” Kings center Mike Richards said.
Gaborik’s wheels have a way of creating time and space, which has consistently created scoring opportunities. He has topped the 40-goal plateau three times, scoring 42 for Minnesota in 2007-08, 42 for the New York Rangers in 2009-10, and 41 for the Rangers in 2011-12. Gaborik also had four 30-goal campaigns for the Wild.
“With his speed, he backs everybody off, making everyone aware of it,” Richards said. You don't want to get burned. He’ll help us. We're probably a better team today than we were yesterday.”
How the offensive-minded Slovak fits in with Coach Darryl Sutter’s grinding Kings could have been open to debate. But the Kings didn’t need another grinder. They needed speed, scoring, and a left-handed shot. In those categories, Gaborik delivered a hat trick before he took his first shift for the Kings.
Gaborik said when he joined the team he intends to keep things simple.
“I’m going to try to fit in and do my job,” he said.
Although Gaborik’s style seems to be anathema to the Kings defense-first approach, playing in a defensive system is nothing new to him. He began his NHL career in Minnesota under Jacques Lemaire. And he won’t be the first elite player asked to buy-in to the Kings defense-oriented game. The team’s core players have always been willing to compete at both ends of the rink.
“The high-end guys, like (Anze) Kopitar, (Jeff) Carter, (Drew) Doughty, all these guys never have lost sight of the fact there's a price to be paid,” said Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi.
Because Gaborik hasn’t had to carry the Kings offense, Lombardi believes the goal-scorer is set up for success in Los Angeles.
“He didn’t have to come in here and be the man,” Lombardi said. “That's what I like. You don't have to be the centerpiece. Just fit in and play. Everywhere he's gone, he's had to be the box-office guy. Our box office is winning. We have other top players where you just can fit in and not worry about the billboard stuff. A lot of players at his stage would welcome that.”
Lombardi said Gaborik has had an opportunity to both fit in and stand out.
“(He can) bring this team what it does not have in its arsenal,” Lombardi said. “He is an explosive player who can make something out of nothing.”
Gaborik didn’t have much opportunity to be explosive prior to joining the Kings. A broken collarbone limited him to six goals in 22 games for Columbus prior to the trade.
But he’s healthy now…and back to his old tricks.
Gaborik helped kick-start a Kings offense that had struggled to score goals in 2013-14. After being blanked six times in 63 games prior to his arrival, the Kings were not shut out once in their final 19 regular season contests with Gaborik in the lineup. He finished the season with 12 points in his last 10 games (3-9—12) and his offense has continued in the postseason, helping the Kings reach the Stanley Cup Final after knocking off San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago.
“All the injuries are behind me,” Gaborik said. “This is a very good opportunity for me to get a crack at (the Stanley Cup). This chance doesn’t happen very often and I want to grab it by the horns.”
Gaborik, who was often mentioned in trade rumors this season, had heard the whispers and knew the Kings were a likely destination.
“With social media, you can hear your name bouncing around,” he said. “It was with the Kings most of the time so I had a feeling, but you never know who you are going to end up with, or if you are going to go, or not going to go.”
Gaborik said the Kings have earned a reputation around the league as a team that is tough to play against and he is determined to earn his keep.
“I had heard nothing but good things,” Gaborik told Jon Rosen of LAKingsInsider.com at the time of the trade. “You can see it also with their play, the way they won the Cup [in 2012]. The group, they’re a very hard team to play against, being on the other side. It should be a good fit, so I’m looking forward to it.”
He’s been playing alongside Anze Kopitar since joining the team and has certainly built chemistry with the fellow all-star forward.
“He’s one of the top playmakers in the league,” Gaborik said. “He’s proven himself to be a leader and a Stanley Cup champion. We played in the All-Star Game together, so I got to talk to him a bit there. I’m very excited to be his winger.”
The deal, which sent Matt Frattin and conditional draft picks to the Blue Jackets, was made with an eye on both the near-term and the long-term. Gaborik will be a free agent this summer, but Lombardi believes the Kings can re-sign him.
Two years ago, when the Kings acquired Carter from Columbus in a February deal to help jump-start their stalled offense, they received the ultimate return on their investment as they went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Yet, as familiar as the circumstances of Gaborik’s arrival in Los Angeles were, this remains a singular player.
“There are very few players capable of doing what he does,” said Lombardi.
Still, Kings fans can’t help but be reminded of Carter, the last erstwhile Blue Jacket brought in for a playoff push. The Kings hope history repeats itself, with Gaborik making a postseason impact reminiscent of the one Carter made in 2012, when he had eight goals and 13 playoff points.
If that happens, the deal that began with a familiar ring to it might end the same way.
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