NEWARK, N.J. — Meet Anze Kopitar, one of the best players in the NHL who very few seem to know about.
The basics are simple. The 24-year-old Slovenian center led the Los Angeles Kings in scoring for the fifth consecutive season, notching at least 25 goals each time. His career-high 51 assists this season were eighth-best in the league.
But when you keep a low profile and play hockey in Southern California, it is easy to avoid the spotlight. That is quickly changing as the Kings close in on their first Stanley Cup title.
“When we’re starting our games at 7:30 on the West Coast, a lot of people are sleeping,” linemate Justin Williams said Friday of the sixth-year forward. “In that aspect, he obviously flies under the radar. The important things are that we know how good he is. If the rest of the world wants to find out, they are doing it right now.”
Kopitar cut the Kings’ magic number to three when his overtime goal gave Los Angeles a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Not a bad way to thrust yourself into the public eye.
Before this year, Kopitar had played in only six NHL postseason games – posting two goals and three assists in 2010 when the Kings lost to Vancouver in the first round. He missed last year’s first-round loss to San Jose because of an ankle injury.
“Teams out West, for whatever reason, don’t have the same coverage that all the East teams do, so you don’t really hear too much about them,” forward Jeff Carter said. “He is definitely a guy that’s kind of building up his name here in the playoffs with the run he’s had.”
In 15 postseason games, Kopitar is tied with captain and linemate Dustin Brown for the team lead with seven goals and 16 points as the Kings have stormed to a 13-2 record. If people across North America didn’t take notice of the big center before, it is impossible to miss him now.
The Kings were 15-6-3 when he scored a goal during the season, and they are 92-36-13 overall when he finds the net, dating to his debut in the 2006-07 season.