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Fantasy Friday: The curious case of Anze Kopitar

by Matt Cubeta / NHL.com

The Los Angeles Kings finished the 2013-14 season with 100 points, sixth most in the Western Conference. Center Anze Kopitar led the team with 29 goals, 41 assists, 70 points and a plus-34 rating during the regular season. He recorded another 26 points in 26 playoff games en route to the team's second Stanley Cup in three years.

The 29 goals and 70 points weren't career-highs for Kopitar, but he finished the season as the 15th ranked fantasy player in Yahoo leagues because of his well-balanced statistical coverage across the board.

Despite helping his team to a Pacific Division-best 12-6-0 record, Kopitar has just seven points in 18 games and has been a disappointment to his fantasy owners. (Photo: Getty Images)

Last season, Kopitar struggled out of the gate. He had just three points in his first 11 games and 12 in his first 25 games overall. Kopitar, a likely top-20 overall fantasy pick heading into this season, had been on pace for under 40 points over a full season at that time.

But after those 25 games, slowly but surely we started to see the return of the Kopitar we had gotten used to. On Dec. 11, 2014, in his 26th game of the season, Kopitar scored a goal against the Ottawa Senators. Four games later he broke out with a goal and four assists against the St. Louis Blues. He rattled off 12 points during a five-game point scoring streak from Dec. 16-27. At that point, Kopitar had 25 points through his first 32 games, a pace of 64 points for the season. Still not quite like the season before, but his point production was starting to creep up to his fantasy owner's expectations.

By the time the 2014-15 season concluded, Kopitar finished with exactly 64 points (in 79 games). And for the eighth season in a row, Kopitar led the Kings in scoring. However, his fantasy value took a major hit because his peripheral stats weren't close to what they were the previous season. Kopitar finished with a minus-2 rating, the first time he had a minus rating in six seasons; he had a career low (for a full season) 134 shots on goal; and his 10 penalty minutes were also the fewest of his career. He finished the season as the 101st ranked player in Yahoo leagues and was one of the biggest disappointments of the year. However, most of that disappointment came in the first 25 games of the season.

DECLINING SUPERSTAR?
Kopitar's fantasy stats - last three seasons
Season
G
A +/- PIM PPP SOG
2013-14 29 41 34 24 23 200
2014-15 16 48 -2 10 24 134
2015-16 5 2 7 4 1 30

So where does that leave things now? Kopitar and the Kings have played 18 games this season and much like last year, the 28-year-old Slovenian forward is struggling. He has five goals, two assists, one power play point and 30 shots on goal. Drafted on average with the 31st pick coming into this season, Kopitar is currently ranked 375th among all players in Yahoo leagues. He is once again one of the bigger disappointments in fantasy hockey to this point.

But if we've learned anything from last year, it's that Kopitar might have the tendency to be a bit of a slow starter, at least from a fantasy perspective. While he remains one of the League's most complete players on both sides of the ice, he simply isn't providing the fantasy punch owners were hoping for. On the plus side, his goal production (five) is actually a bit higher than normal, especially compared to last season's 16 goals, and his rating is certainly improved (plus-7). It's the assists, power play production and shots on goal that really leave us wanting more.

Prior to this season, Kopitar averaged 0.57 assists per game, or what would equate to 47 per an 82-game season. This season he has two in 18 games, or 0.11 per game and an 82-game pace of nine. Obviously he's going to finish with more than nine assists for the full season, but his current number is quite staggering. The same goes for his one power-play point and his 30 shots on goal. But improvement has to be expected from a player with his kind of skill.

Anze Kopitar
Center - LAK
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 2 | PIM: 4
SOG: 30 | PPP: 1 | +/-: 7
What does all of this mean for his fantasy owners? The way I see it, you have three options:

1 -- You can drop Kopitar and send him to waivers. Based on his Yahoo ownership (95 percent), not many of you are doing this. Smart. You don't want to drop him. If he is on waivers, go add him immediately.

2 -- You can try and trade him to another team. Another bad idea because his value can't be any lower than it is right now. No one is going to want a player with seven points that's coming off a down season in 2014-15.

3 -- You stick it out with him and wait for him to catch fire. Ding, ding, ding, ding. This is the right choice.

As I mentioned earlier, Kopitar, a five-time 70-plus-point player, is too good not to improve. His advanced metrics say the same, specifically his 70 Shot Attempts (SAT), which are 15th best in 5-on-5 play among forwards.

Kopitar has seen his linemates shuffle all around him, and maybe that's led to some disarray in his game, but recently he has been centering Marian Gaborik and Tanner Pearson. Like Kopitar, Gaborik has struggled mightily and is certainly playing a role in Kopitar's low assist totals. But there's good talent in Los Angeles and Gaborik and Pearson are capable goal scorers, which leads me to believe it's only a matter of time before Kopitar turns the corner.

If you've got him in your fantasy league, stick with him. Maybe he'll put together another 12-points-in-a-five-game-span type run like he did last season to spark his offense. Will he lead the Kings in scoring for a ninth straight season? Time will tell, but either way, I have faith in Kopitar, a free agent to be at the end of this season, turning his fantasy season around.

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