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Anze Kopitar Must Prove First-Line Value

It is not a secret that Anze Kopitar and the L.A. Kings are trying to get an extension done before the 2015-16 NHL season kicks off next month. It’s also no secret that the team and player are far apart in their negotiations.

There is this potential and yet too often, the center does not always deliver. That contrast is the crux of the problem in your drafts. The Kings underwent a considerable struggle offensively last year again for long stretches and that has to be concerning. As great as a defensive center Kopitar is, it does not overcome his shortcomings offensively.

The idea that Kopitar isn’t worth what he’s asking may get people all worked up, but maybe it should. Sometimes the perception we have of a player is different from the reality.

 

Average Time On Ice

It might have been a blip, but the center was almost 90 seconds off his career average for ice time last year. He only played 19:23 per game and that comes out to almost two full shifts less per contest. It will not seem like much on the surface, but for a guy who has nailed it from a young age, Kopitar has played a ton of hockey the past several seasons. One just wonders if he was being rested a bit or maybe there is a real regression offensively.

Also of note: the forward played less than 19 minutes in six of the last seven games in 2014-15. It does not seem like injuries were an issue, so the question has to be asked: What happened? We may never know, but his time on ice will be monitored a bit more closely at the start of this upcoming season.

 

Only 16 Goals?

Kopitar set a career low for goals scored in a full NHL season and yet the quirky thing was he still had 24 power play points. It is true that the pivot has always been more of a distributor, but he did have a tendency to go for his shot more before 2013.

Something happened that year. Look at his total shots attempted and you will see the beginning of a decline from numbers in the 400’s to the 300’s to last season’s 249. That is not just a blip. It is a three-year trend that may suggest the prime of Kopitar is in its late stages barring an unexpected revival. Kopitar is not performing badly by any remote figment of the imagination but a drop or leveling off just seems more likely than a rise.

He has now had three or more assists for every goal in two of the last three campaigns. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, it is clear that the Kings “heart and soul” needs to attempt more shots. For defensive centers, 50-60 point years are good and 60-70 point seasons are great while 70-plus is considered elite.

 

It’s Up To Kopitar

This comes down to the player himself. Everyone knows that he drives possession better than most anyone else, and yet too many times he passed the puck. Even despite that, his HERO chart is still amazing.

Even a slight dip last year did not cause his chart to sway much but….

Again we ask is it a blip because of teammates or an indictment on Kopitar’s assertiveness? The overall numbers seem to indicate that he has to prove himself a little bit. While a 65-point season would be rather nice for most, the peripheral values don’t seem to be trending the right way.

A player at the age of 28 who has played a lot of hockey worries anyone no matter how slight. Not even Kopitar could get out of the slump he was in last year. Can he face that adversity and conquer it this time? This sounds like a ludicrous question to ask, but last year’s Kings did have us wondering a bit.

The two Stanley Cup titles may not be the greatest test for the center. This contract year may just be. How he does will set value for the next several years.

 

Our 2015-16 Projections

  • Goals:  20-23
  • Assists:  45-50
  • Points:  66-72
  • Power Play Points:  23-27
  • Shots:  190-220
  • Faceoff Percentage:  52-53%

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