When Kopi debuted back in 2006, I didn't know anything about him. I was still getting my footing as a serious fan, and he was drafted about a year before my interests shifted from baseball to hockey.
Of course, it didn't take long for him to endear himself to me. Nine minutes and fourteen seconds into his NHL career and Kopi was a King for life. There was a time during his rookie season when graffiti bearing his likeness began showing up around L.A. It was the start of something, even before we knew that there was something that could start.
Now we're 700 games into his NHL career. Relative to the amount of shifts he's had in the NHL, Kopi's only missed a handful. He's spent nine seasons being the best player on his team, and only over brief stretches of time has he had to give up that title. There was that time when Jonathan Quick... Oh, remember those few weeks when Drew Doughty...
Then we get back to Kopi.
Perhaps this was most exemplified by his 2012 playoff run. Consistently excellent throughout, he didn't grab a lot of headlines - besides a breathtaking goal against St. Louis - until the Final. Then, in a flash, he won game 1 for the Kings. He was the hero again, as if he'd ever stopped being that, even for a second.
People remember the Kings for who they've been since the 2012 playoffs started, but they've been resurgent on the back of Anze Kopitar since the 2009-10 season. Leading up to that first round playoff series with the Canucks in 2010, the Kings had not won a single playoff game since game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Quarterfinals. Who better to bust that drought than Kopi?
Anze made the Kings watchable at a time when the rest of the team burned your eyes. He always managed to feel like the first warm day after a particularly cold winter.
Perhaps the reason Anze has always felt both intertwined with the Kings and distant at the same time is because of where he hails from. Slovenia was a nothing in the hockey world. Kopi has made it something, but that something leaves him as both a man of his country and a man of his hockey team in a way that very few players in the hockey world can relate to.
Hockey has existed in Slovenia for a long time, but only on the skates of Kopi was it able to join Hockey's World Map. Armed with a well-coached bunch of hockey drifters, he helped his country earn its first ever Olympic hockey victories in 2014.
At the top of Slovenia's hockey family tree, Anze Kopitar will forever sit as the head. If future generations of Slovenians come to the NHL and play well, it is of little doubt that they will be able to point to Anze as their inspiration. Similarly, a generation of young Angelenos may point to Kopi as well.
Now, an American city and European country have a connection thanks to the work of Kopitar. When Kings fans look back on the history of the Kings, they'll see Kopi as the central figure and catalyst of their team's championship runs. Kopi ignited hockey in Los Angeles much in the same way that he's done it in Slovenia.
Kopi will probably be a King next year. On the off chance that he isn't, he will still be a King. He's the ultimate King. He's the King that all other Kings will forever aspire to be. He isn't just the face of his team, he's the face of his franchise's entire history. There were Wayne Gretzky's Kings, but now there are Anze Kopitar's Winners.
He's a champion and a leader. He's talented and durable. He's skilled and humble. He's everything everyone always says those good ol' Canadian boys are, except for real.
When he was a young boy, he wrote a story about a man that became the first Slovenian to succeed in the NHL. He titled it "Secret Dreams of Hockey Player Miha." His Grandma told him that Miha's dreams were very high. Good thing that Anze's weren't.