If you were to ask ninety percent of the biggest hockey fans who the leading scorer in the NHL is right now, most would answer with Sidney Crosby or Evgeny Malkin or Alex Ovechkin. If you had to make a guess at the nationality of the leading scorer in the NHL what would you guess? Probably wouldn’t guess Slovenia would you?
With a population of well… two million, how many are actually NHL quality hockey players? Slovenia was once part of Yugoslavia and for the past 19 years, it has been its own independent republic. Anze Kopitar, the leading scorer in the NHL right now has the same number of assists and is older than the country he is from.
He developed his hockey skill growing up in Slovenia and led the Slovenien Hockey League in scoring at 16 years old. He then was scooped up by a Swedish scout to play for Sodertalje SK of the Swedish Elite League. Kopitar was then chosen 11th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2005 NHL entry draft. He was given a chance to play for the Regina Pats but he declined their offer and returned to Sweden for another year. He attended his first rookie camp in 2006 with the Kings. He became the first Slovenian hockey player to play in the NHL when he made his debut in LA against the Anaheim Ducks on October 6, 2006. In the 2007-2008 season, Kopitar finished with an impressive team leading 77 point season. On October 11, 2008, he signed a seven-year, $47.6 million contract with the Kings. So far this season, as mentioned, he is the NHL’s leading scorer with 14 goals, 19 assists for 33 points in 24 games played. Sitting on his back door with 32 points is Marian Gaborik and Joe Thornton.
“Sometimes I’ll take a look, [the standings] but just being on top right now is something I’m really proud of,” said Anze Kopitar. “It doesn’t happen very often so it’s really a good thing. There are a lot of really good hockey players in this league, so just being on top I know that I must be doing something right. I’m getting the puck more in stride this year compared to previous years. I’d have to go and get it and now we’re playing more of a possession game which is really good.” he said.
He tallied his first career hat-trick on October 22, 2009 against the Dallas Stars. He is proven to be a solid first line player for the Kings and has helped rejuvenate a rundown LA King offense who were third worst in the league last year.
“He’s really good. He does everything exceptionally well,” said teammate Matt Greene. “Skating, shooting, passing everything is good. He’s got the frame to go with so he’s been a pretty special player for us all year.”
The Kings have missed the playoffs every year for the past seven years. They are currently tied for fourth highest scoring team in the league with 71 goals for. Although it’s early, they're threatening to keep a firm grip on a playoff spot. The currently sit in sixth position in the West with 28 points.
“It would be huge making the playoffs for the first time in seven years would be huge for the Kings,” Kopitar said. “We’re pretty confident about this group we’ve shown in the past that we can play and now the next step is to play consistent every game and win hockey games.”
Kings head coach Terry Murray thinks highly of the young player as would most NHL coaches. He is off to yet another great start and Murray just hopes he continues to roll for the Kings.
“I think it comes down to an attitude,” said Kings Coach, Terry Murray. “You’re a young guy, starting to feel pretty comfortable in the league. Last year he put a big focus on the defensive checking part of the game. I think that over the off season you evaluate where you are and make a decision that it’s my time. Then you start to take over and take over ownership of the team. He’s come in with that attitude right from the first day of the training camp. I think Ryan Smyth on the left wing side has had an impact on that kind of attitude and they’ve been on fire in the early part of the year.”