LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anze Kopitar is likely to reach many milestones this season. The one he accomplished Saturday night has a bit more significance.
Kopitar skated in his 1,297th game to become the Los Angeles Kings leader in games played. He surpassed former teammate Dustin Brown during the Kings’ 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins.
“It’s up there with all of them really. To be fairly durable during my career and to do it just here is something I take pride in,” Kopitar said. “It is a big honor to be with one franchise and to be successful and to do it along Brownie, Drew (Doughty) and Quicky (Jonathan Quick) for quite a few years. A brotherhood was created, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s a humble feeling.”
The Kings selected Kopitar with the 11th overall pick in the 2005 NHL Draft. He is one of 10 players from that draft who are still playing. That includes Pittsburgh superstar Sydney Crosby, the top overall pick that year, and Quick, who went to the Kings in the third round. Quick was in net for Los Angeles for 16 seasons before being traded last season. He’s now with the New York Rangers.
Kopitar, Brown, Doughty and Quick were part of the core for the Kings’ two Stanley Cup titles in 2012 and ’14. Brown retired at the end of the 2021-22 season and knew his record wouldn’t last long.
In a taped message played during the first period, Brown said: “Two things need to happen for this type of record to be broken. First and foremost, you are one (heck) of a player, and everyone knows that. And the second thing is, you’re old.”
The 36-year-old Kopitar laughed as he watched the message from the ice but admitted that knowing who he was surpassing was a strange feeling.
“I am passing my very good buddy, but if there were a script where we all could have finished on the same number, I’m sure we would have signed it gladly,” he said.
Kopitar — who has 395 goals and 751 assists for 1,146 career points — has led the Kings in scoring in 15 of the last 17 seasons. He has also been Los Angeles’ captain since 2016.
Kings coach Todd McLellan said he was using Kopitar as an example for younger players while coaching other teams.
“We’ve used him a lot. When trying to show young players key situations and how to play them, we used No. 11,” McLellan said. “He really understands the whole picture. He knows moments and he plays the right way minute in and minute out.”
Kopitar is fourth among active skaters in games played. The Kings are also the third club that has been around for at least 10 seasons and has the franchise leader in games played still active, joining Washington (Alex Ovechkin) and Pittsburgh (Crosby).
The Kings are also the seventh of the league’s 32 franchises whose career games played leader was born outside North America. Kopitar, though, is the first player from Slovenia to play in the NHL.
While fans received pucks to honor Saturday’s occasion, a ceremony for all of Kopitar’s milestones will be held later in the season. He needs seven assists to pass Marcel Dionne for the franchise record. He is five goals shy of becoming the fourth player in Kings’ history to reach the 400-goal mark.
Kopitar also needs nine points to move past Luc Robitaille for second on the scoring list.
After signing a two-year extension during the offseason, Kopitar is under contract through the 2025-26 season and shows no signs of slowing down. Last season, he received his second Lady Byng Trophy after having only four penalty minutes in nearly 1,655 minutes of ice time.
Kopitar and Doughty are the elder statesmen on the Kings, who look to contend in the Western Conference and win their first playoff series since they won their second title in 2014. Coincidentally, Doughty played in his 1,100th game on Saturday night.
“It’s a lot easier to stay in one place when you win already versus exploring other teams to try and win. I’ve felt great here right from the start,” Kopitar said. “It has been a good ride, and it’s not quite finished yet. I have a few more years in me.”
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl