Kopitar and the Kings Both on the Rise


Written on 10/16/2009 by Jim Cerny

Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar (photo left) and his teammates may not have been able to celebrate the last two nights following road losses to the Rangers and Red Wings, but there already has been---and will be---plenty to celebrate this season for one of the league's youngest and most exciting teams.

The Kings are 4-3-0 to start the season, but the somewhat-unexciting record should not overshadow the good things taking place with the Kings. They are a gifted offensive team, backstopped by an emerging young goaltender in Jonathan Quick, and with a strong defense featuring a nice blend of veterans---headed by 38 year-old Sean O'Donnell and Stanley Cup winner Rob Scuderi---and youngsters---including the talented threesome of Drew Doughty (19), Davis Drewiske (24), and Jack Johnson (22).

Last year the Kings were a bit too wet behind the ears to secure a playoff spot. But the off-season additions of Scuderi and veteran winger Ryan Smyth, along with the maturing of all the young talent on the roster, should land the Kings a post-season berth this season.

The 22 year-old Kopitar, who is already in his fourth NHL season, is an example of a young homegrown talent that is emerging as an on-ice leader, while also looking to make the jump from the star to superstar level, out in L.A.

There is a different look to Kopitar this season. The 11 points in seven games---second most in the league---attests to that. But it's not just the numbers. Remember, we are talking about a kid who notched 32 goals and 77 points as a 20 year-old two years ago, and who followed up with 27 goals and 66 points last season.

Kopitar is an elite talent. But now he is taking on a bigger role, carefully guided along by the likes of Smyth, Scuderi, O'Donnell, and veteran center Michal Handzus. He is now joining the youthful leadership core that 24 year-old captain Dustin Brown and 26 year-old forward Matt Greene lead.

This talent---pretty much all homegrown---is maturing like a fine California wine. And Kings coach Terry Murray is taking notice.

"You know what I notice?," Murray said to me following Wednesday's 4-2 loss to the Rangers. "I notice that our young guys are really talking on the bench. The young guys are now speaking the same language as the veterans. That means we're maturing, and it's coming. We have a better understanding of what is going on."

Murray's opposite number Wednesday night, Rangers coach John Tortorella, was also very impressed with what he saw from a Kings team that featured nine players under the age of 26.

"It wasn't a fluke that they were four-and-one coming in here, that's a good hockey team," said Tortorella. "They have built their team, as they have gone through some tough times, and I think some of that is coming to fruition right now. "

The Kings very well could have won their fifth in a row on Wednesday night, if not for a huge effort by Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. They outskated their hosts---winners of six straight themselves---and outshot them by a wide 36-21 margin.

And the Kings played well in another tough road barn last night---Joe Louis Arena---before falling 5-2 to the Red Wings. Two more games remain on L.A.'s six-game road trip. And once they return home, and get settled in, I think their season will unfold in a very positive fashion.

This team is ready to make the next jump. Just watch and see.

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