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Kings name Kopitar captain

Los Angeles' leading scorer for nine straight seasons replaces Brown, gains 'boost of confidence'

by Curtis Zupke / Correspondent

El SEGUNDO, Calif. -- When Anze Kopitar arrived in Los Angeles a decade ago, the teammate he most identified with was Dustin Brown.

The two endured a string of disappointing seasons before each grew and helped the Los Angeles Kings win two Stanley Cup championships. Kopitar was excited and honored to be named Brown's replacement as captain of the Kings on Thursday. 

"It's something that, during Brown's time, I've never given it a whole lot of thought," Kopitar said. "I've always thought of him as being the guy. It's a bit of sweet-and-sour taste in my mouth, because [Brown] and I are friends…quite frankly, he's the only guy that's been there right when I got to L.A. I wouldn't say [it's] awkward. Our relationship isn't going to change. I'm still going to need him beside my side."

Kings general manager Dean Lombardi acknowledged that a leadership change was necessary and timely, given Kopitar's ascension as their best player and Brown's struggles in recent seasons. Brown had been captain since 2008.

Video: LA Kings' Kopitar speaks on being named captain

"It's time for Kopitar to take over," Lombardi said. "He's been bred for it. He's been trained for it. He's one of our top players, and he's moving into his prime. It's his turn."

Lombardi did not name the alternate captains and said there is some more decision-making to be done in that area. Kopitar said he will likely have input.

Kopitar, 28, spent the past eight seasons as an alternate captain. A two-time Cup winner (2012, 2014), Kopitar has led the Kings in scoring in each of the past nine seasons, and had 25 goals and 74 points in 2015-16. He has 243 goals and 441 assists in 764 regular-season NHL games, and 20 goals and 44 assists in 75 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Kopitar's captaincy comes after he signed an eight-year contract extension in January that supplanted defenseman Drew Doughty as the Kings' highest-paid player. Kopitar said he embraces the responsibility and that "I'm driven by this."

"If you can add the 'C' letter to your jersey, it's a challenge," he said. "I'm up for challenges. It's going to give me another boost of confidence."

Kopitar is a Selke Trophy finalist for the third straight season after leading NHL forwards in total ice time (1,690:12) and finishing second in plus/minus (plus-34) behind teammate Tyler Toffoli (plus-35).

Brown, 31, played on the third and fourth lines this season. His 11 goals in each of the past two seasons are his fewest since 2006-07.

Video: Kings name Kopitar their new Captain

Lombardi said he won't buy out Brown, who has six years remaining on a eight-year contract worth $47 million, according to Lombardi said he met with Brown a month ago, and Brown subsequently met with Kings coach Darryl Sutter "on what he needs to do and what his role is."

Lombardi said he believes Brown can get back to being the effective player he was earlier in his career.

"He perfectly recognizes that for us to be successful as a team, he needs to get back to where he's capable," Lombardi said.

"Despite [that] he hasn't produced at the level he's capable [of], it wasn't because of effort. He puts enormous pressure on himself … one time not too long ago, he was one of the best power forwards in the League. That's where he needs to be."

Brown is expected to speak about the change later this month.

Lombardi and Kopitar spoke about the Kings' disappointing seasons since the '14 Cup win. They missed the playoffs last season and were eliminated in the first round by the San Jose Sharks in five games this postseason.

"Our top guys, we didn't perform to our potential," Kopitar said. "….to have that [leadership] change, I'm sure it has nothing to do with [Brown]. It's the organization trying to find something and give him a break and take some off his shoulders so he can find his game again."

Lombardi said attempts to re-sign left wing Milan Lucic have been slowed but "it's probably safe to say we will be making our best effort under the circumstances probably early next week."

"There's no question we want him back, and he clearly wants to be back, but there's a number of things we've had to work through," Lombardi said.

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