and Paul Stastny symbolize what is so great about NHL hockey.
They're young, exuberant, fan-friendly and oozing potential, much of which has already been unleashed. The fact both centers entered the 2008-09 season with an identical 52 goals apiece -- an average of 26 goals per season -- speaks volumes of their smooth transition to the professional game.
The Kings' Kopitar (6-foot-3, 219 pounds) became the first Slovenian-born athlete to reach the NHL and made a memorable debut on Oct. 6, 2006, when he scored a pair of goals in a 4-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. He concluded his rookie season with 20 goals and 61 points and participated in the NHL YoungStars Game during All-Star festivities in '07.
Colorado's Stastny (6-foot, 205), the son of Hockey Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, is one of the few players in the League still using a wooden stick. He finished his rookie season with 28 goals and 78 points and was second in the Calder Trophy voting behind Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin as NHL rookie of the year.
The argument for Kopitar could be that he is succeeding despite not having the supporting cast that surrounds Stastny. Still, there's no denying the fact Stastny has a bit of his father's game in his own, certainly giving the thumb's up for good genes.
Kopitar and Stastny are the focus of this week's Head-to-Head segment on NHL.com and we want to hear from you. If you were given the opportunity to build a franchise around either one of these young snipers, who would you choose? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kopitar, 21, was named to the 2008 NHL All-Star Game and has the size all general managers dream about from the center position, has great hands and is a smooth skater. He became the second youngest player in Kings history to win the team MVP award with 32 goals, 45 assists and 77 points, while tying for the club lead with 12 power-play goals in 2007-08. Kopitar, also a proven defensive-forward as evidenced by his team-leading 52 takeaways, sported a 49.2 faceoff winning percentage.
Despite only playing in 66 regular-season games last season, Stastny, 22, still led Colorado with 71 points (24 goals). He also led the team with 47 assists and a plus-22 rating and was named to the Western Conference roster for the 2008 NHL All-Star Game but couldn't participate due to an emergency appendectomy. Like his father, he has a penchant for playing hard at both ends of the ice, is mature beyond his years, and is regarded as an exceptional playmaker. Stastny, who won 51 percent of his faceoffs, was second on the team with 54 takeaways.
Each has had amateur and international success.
Kopitar, drafted at No. 11 by the Kings in 2005, represented Slovenia at the 2006 World Championships in Latvia, the 2007 Division 1 World Championships and the 2008 World Championships, leading the team in scoring each season. After being ranked as the top European skater heading into the '05 Entry Draft, he played in the Swedish Elite League for Sodertalje as an 18-year-old.
Stastny, drafted in the second round (No. 44) of the '05 Entry Draft, is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, but chose to play internationally for the U.S. He played for the U.S. National Team at the 2007 World Championships, finishing with 8 points (4 goals). He also played two seasons at the University of Denver from 2004-06, posting 36 goals and 98 points in 81 NCAA games. In his second and final season at Denver in 2005-06, he won Third-Team All-America honors from the American Hockey Coaches Association after capturing the Western College Hockey Association scoring title with 44 points in 28 conference games. He shared the team scoring lead with 53 points (19 goals).
Both players have room for improvement, of course. Kopitar must continue to work on his play away from the puck while learning to better utilize his linemates. Stastny, who isn't considered a natural goal-scorer, must deal with the daily comparisons to his father; something he seems to have already accomplished judging by his success over two seasons.
There are the arguments, now you make the call. Is it Kopitar or Stastny? Send us your thoughts at email@example.com
.Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer