It has been quite a week for Anze Kopitar.
Just days after being named the new captain of the Los Angeles Kings, the Slovenian took home the Frank J. Selke and Lady Byng trophies at the 2016 NHL Awards in Las Vegas on Wednesday night. These are the first two individual awards of Kopitar’s career.
As the old adage goes, the third time was the charm as this was Kopitar’s third-straight year being nominated for the Selke, awarded to the NHL’s top defensive forward. Finishing as a runner-up to Boston‘s Patrice Bergeron in each of the past two seasons, the bridesmaid, so to speak, was no longer that in 2016 as Kopitar took home his deserved hardware.
This past season, Kopitar led all forwards in total ice time (1,690:12) while averaging 20:52 per game, including 2:09 shorthanded. In addition to signing a mega contract extension this past season, the 28-year-old collected 74 points (25 goals, 49 assists) in 81 games while finishing second overall with a plus-34 ranking.
Even more, Kopitar won the Lady Byng Trophy, which is awarded to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability,”
A consummate gentleman on the ice, Kopitar amassed just 16 penalty minutes this past season (amassing his career total to 200) en route to winning the award on just his second nomination. The win also marks the first time a King has won the Lady Byng since Wayne Gretzky in 1994.
While individual award wins certainly shouldn’t define one’s career, these victories only emphasize Anze Kopitar’s importance not only to the Los Angeles Kings but to the NHL and the growth of hockey in California. When he was drafted in 2005, what stood out to this writer about Kopitar was that he was simply a player from Slovenia, a nation where hockey was, at the time, more or less a foreign sport.
But Kopitar wasn’t content on being the answer to an obscure trivia question. Instead, he began suiting up for the Kings in 2006 and made an immediate splash. During the club’s painfully-long rebuilding phase, Kopitar was one of the lone bright spots on the ice, establishing himself as a star in the making while molding himself into a franchise cornerstone. In addition to regularly leading his team in scoring, Kopitar was utterly reliable, playing in 330 consecutive games while being a consummate professional along the way staying out of the penalty box while always keeping his composure.
When the Los Angeles Kings made the controversial decision of stripping Dustin Brown of his captaincy, it was met with questions of who would succeed No. 23. Many believed Drew Doughty would have been the next captain while some even suggested that Jeff Carter would be a good fit. In the end, though, to the surprise of a select few, it was none other than Anze Kopitar chosen as the club’s 14th captain.
While this statement is up for some debate, this writer believes that no other Kings player demonstrates professionalism and class more than Anze Kopitar – and that is meant with all due respect towards the likes of Dustin Brown or Drew Doughty.
Regardless of where his team was in the standings – whether they were eliminated from playoff contention at Christmas in 2007 or seconds away from winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 — Anze Kopitar has given his all for the Los Angeles Kings and for that, he not only deserves to be the captain but deserves to be the recipient of the Frank J. Selke and Lady Byng awards. Yet, while they may not be as celebrated as the Hart or the Art Ross, Kopitar’s wins on Wednesday night underline just how important of a figure he is — one who has helped, for the time being at least, put the dreaded east-coast bias on the shelf. This is the type of impact that Anze Kopitar has, and this writer could not be any prouder of what he has accomplished thus far.
Entering their 50th season, the Los Angeles Kings will be turning the page on a new era — one that will have the face of the franchise donning the C. While fans are entering a summer of uncertainty about how their Kings will look and fare next season, they never have to doubt Anze Kopitar and what he means to their beloved team.
They may not define his career but the Selke and Lady Byng trophies only stress Kopitar’s overall impact further, and that is something the Los Angeles Kings and their fans can be proud of when looking at their new captain.