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FROM AFAR TO YOUNG STAR TO ALL-STAR

Saturday, 01.26.2008 / 3:43 PM / Features
By Thomas LaRocca  - LAKings.com Staff Writer
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FROM AFAR TO YOUNG STAR TO ALL-STAR
Last year, Anze Kopitar was the first Slovenian to play in the NHL.

This year, he is the first Slovenian to play in the NHL’s All-Star game.

“It is his second year and he has already made a name for himself,” San Jose Sharks all-star netminder Evgeni Nabokov said. “You are talking about one of the most talented guys on that team. When we are playing the Kings, he is one of the most dangerous guys on the ice and we pay a lot of attention to him.

“He is a very talented, very skilled guy.”

San Jose Sharks All-Star Center Joe Thornton agreed.

"Kopi is the full package," he said. "He skates very well, he is physical and he shoots the puck very nicely. He is a complete player."

The Kings considered themselves very lucky when Central Scouting’s top-rated European skater fell in their lap as the No. 11 pick in the 2005 NHL Draft.

Ten players, including Sidney Crosby, Bobby Ryan, teammate Jack Johnson, Benoit Pouliot, Carey Price, Gilbert Brule, Jack Skille, Devin Setoguci, Brian Lee, Luc Bourbon were all selected as Kopitar continued to slide down the draft board.

“We are looking at a potential home run here to have Anze Kopitar fall to 11," then Kings GM Dave Taylor said at the time. "We had him rated very high. Certainly, if you look at his skill package with the size and the hands, he has a tremendous amount of upside."

Kopitar showed some of that upside when he burst on the scene in the 2006-07 opener, scoring two goals at Anaheim in his NHL debut. The next night in front of the home crowd at STAPLES Center, Kopitar showed that two-goal effort was no fluke, tallying three assists in the Kings’ 4-1 win over the Blues.

Kopitar continued his strong play through out the season, scoring 20-41=61, becoming the first Kings rookie since Luc Robitaille (84 points, 1986-87) to reach 60 points in his inaugural campaign.

In fact, his 61 points were the fifth-highest total ever amassed by a Kings rookie.

The effort earned Kopitar a nod on the YoungStars team, where he promptly delivered two goals and three assists in the West’s loss to the East.

The young centerman learned a lot from taking part in that 2007 All-Star Weekend.

“It was fun last year, I got a chance to see how everything goes on around here,” Kopitar said during the All-Stars media day at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Ga. “To be in the big game this year is going to be a lot of fun. To play with those guys and against the best of the East, it is going to be a blast.”

Kopitar is the youngest of the 42 All-Stars, 17 days younger than injured Sidney Crosby and 20 months younger than Colorado’s Paul Stastny.

He leads the Kings in scoring with 19-27=46, his 19 goals already one less than the 20-year old center scored all of last season.

"He deserves to be here," Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer said. "He is a very talented player. I definitely understand while he is here, we play a lot against the Kings and to try and defend a guy like that, he is a very talented hockey player."

So no sophomore slump for Kopitar.

“I was afraid going into this year, a lot of rookies slide in their second year,” he said. “But I got off to a good start and that really helped my confidence.”

Kopitar and the Western Conference All-Stars will face the East Sunday at 3 p.m.