In this week’s 31 Thoughts column by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, he caught up with players from nearly every team to check up and chat while the league is on pause. One of those players was Anze Kopitar, who entertained a handful of questions from Friedman. First, he was asked about the youth on the team and if there’s a one player he could point to making strides over the last year. Kopitar offered both a forward and a defender.
“At forward, Alex Iafallo took the next step this year. A couple of years ago, you’re a rookie, and you don’t really understand what’s going on. Now, he’s consistent, he’s scoring goals, he’s putting up points, he’s doing the things you are expected to do when you’re on the top line.”
The 26-year-old Iafallo isn’t just a good friend who delivers toiler paper via drone during a pandemic. The forward was on pace to double his raw points total from his rookie campaign just two years later, prior to the season pause. His additional ice time over the last two seasons and special teams play have allowed Iafallo to quickly blossom with the Kings and it’s no surprise that he’d be the first to come to Kopitar’s mind.
But the youth is one of the things the Kings are universally agreed to have going for them and Kopitar was sure to make note of a defender, as well:
“On defence, I will take Matt Roy. He’s done a tremendous job. Being on a team where we are losing more often than not — which sucks — he’s a plus player. That’s impressive.”
Matt Roy is an interesting prospect, playing his first full season with the Kings this year after 25 somewhat uninspired contests last season. Ultimately his offensive output is similar on a raw, per game basis (6 points over 25 games in 2018-19 and 18 points over 70 in 2019-20). A positive however, is that Roy has become a better possession player the in 2020 season, going from 44.9 percent Corsi for in his first season to 56.1 in 2019-20.
Kopitar also offered this insight on how the veterans keep the kids from getting caught up in the disappoint of the process not creating immediate results:
“That’s the hard part. You can start cheating when you don’t get the results. But our effort has been very good this year. There’s been very few games where we’ve been blown up. It’s been encouraging to see many of our guys doing the right stuff. The thing we try to tell them is that there might only be five (or) 10 minutes where you didn’t do it in a game, and that’s when you get scored on. But we’ve done a really good job of staying positive. I tell them that even for me, the toughest thing is that you’re not going to be at your best for 82 games. It’s not possible. So you have to work on limiting the low points. How good can you be when you’re not at your best, so you don’t get blown up?”
That’s a great attitude. We talked about my respect for Henrik Lundqvist, and how he refused to be a negative force as the Rangers rebuilt and then carried three goalies. Kopitar said it was easier for him to do that this year, as opposed to 2018-19.
“Last year, we didn’t see it coming. This year, we knew it was coming. We signed up for it, and the good thing is we are starting to see our trend go upwards. Sure, at times it gets frustrating. But the hard work and the effort, that’s the encouraging part.”
This, to me, reads exactly how you would want a captain to talk about a team in the Kings’ position. Accepting a rebuild for what it is isn’t great or fun (the Rangers comparison in particular feels apt, given how seemingly open that front office has been with the fans during their rebuild process), but being able to focus on “limiting the low points,” seems not only realistic, but a smart way to manage the emotions of a young locker room.
Friedman wraps up his talk with Kopitar by asking what it’s like to not have Drew Doughty around every day:
“It’s a little quieter, but it’s uneventful,” Kopitar laughed. “Ninety per cent of what comes out of his mouth is funny. You’re not laughing as much without him around.”