One of the great benefits of residing in Los Angeles is having the opportunity to enjoy a little sun and surf at the drop of a dime.
In fact, Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar
even admitted this might be the season he attempts something he's never done before -- surfing.
"We're always playing volleyball since it's sunny all the time, but a couple of the guys have tried surfing so maybe that's something I'll do this year," Kopitar said.
In addition to arranging his recreational itinerary, however, Kopitar is also focused on the upcoming season. The 21-year-old Slovenian is determined to help lead the team out of the darkness and into the spotlight of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in five seasons. Not only would qualifying for the playoffs be a huge boost for the organization, but the NHL as well since Kopitar has proven to be one of the League's brightest young offensive stars.
A little playoff hockey, says Kopitar, is what the players and fans desperately need.
"It's hard when you're losing all the time and the team is struggling and the guys aren't as happy as they would normally be when in the thick of a playoff hunt," Kopitar told NHL.com. "But there are lessons to be learned from losing. You have to learn how to lose, something I've experienced more than I probably would have liked in my first two seasons. I'm hopeful we can turn this thing around."
After finishing 29th in the League and 15th in the Western Conference with 71 points (32-43-7) in 2007-08, Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi released coach Marc Crawford and replaced him with Terry Murray.
"I have just spoken to (Murray) briefly, but I'm sure there will be some changes with the systems," Kopitar said. "He did tell me we would be changing a few things and I'm excited about that. Change is good sometimes."
While Murray understands the challenge he will face in leading the Kings this season, he is also acquiring a team that has become much younger, faster and, he hopes, more exciting.
"We have some very good young hockey players in this organization," Murray said. "We needed to get younger and we need to get the young guys going. At the same time, we need to get the young players on this club to start showing the way, to help lead and take over as core players."
One such player is Kopitar, who has had two very productive seasons in Los Angeles despite the team's struggles. After collecting 20 goals and 61 points in 2006-07, finishing fourth in the voting for the Calder Trophy, Kopitar took it one notch higher last season, scoring 32 goals and 77 points in 82 games.
Not only is he leading by example on the ice, but he's also becoming more of a vocal presence in the locker room.
"I'm sure it'll be exciting this season," Kopitar said. "Becoming more of a leader is a new challenge for me and we have a good corps of guys who will hopefully lead this team. Dustin (Brown), Patrick (O'Sullivan), Jack (Johnson) and (Alexander) Frolov are all young guys and I feel, together, we can become leaders of this team and move forward. We need to put the past behind us and I think it can be done."
Kopitar certainly possesses the pedigree to become the team's exuberant leader. After all, he's been skating alongside older players since the age of 16, when he left his native Slovenia to begin play in Sweden.
"I was actually one of the leaders on the Swedish team and I just tried to lead by example," Kopitar said. "I'm pretty sure that's what I'll try and do in Los Angeles. I was always respectful with the older guys and watched them very closely to see what they did and how they responded to certain situations."
Kopitar is quick to point out that he has benefited playing on a line with O'Sullivan and Brown. Like Kopitar, O'Sullivan, who had 22 goals and 53 points last season, will be entering his third season with the Kings. Brown, who's entering his fifth, not only had a team-leading 33 goals, but a League-leading 311 hits. Brown's physical style undoubtedly provided Kopitar some added space to maneuver on the ice.
"First of all (Brown's) a great guy, so, for me, it's very easy to play with him," Kopitar said. "I always know where he is because he plays a simple game, nothing fancy. He's pretty straight forward, obviously hits very hard and creates space for me to work out there. On top of that, he's a 30-goal scorer."
Frolov, who is entering his sixth season, had 23 goals and 67 points last season and will likely share a line with newly acquired Jarret Stoll
, who produced 14 goals and 36 points in 81 games with the Edmonton Oilers in 2007-08. Stoll signed a four-year deal with the Kings on Sept. 4.Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer