Yesterday Rich Hammond revealed the top 5 performers for the Kings in physical testing, based on 10 different strata of on and off ice work outs.

Those top 5 were, in order, Rich Clune, Dustin Brown, Andrei Loktionov, Kyle Clifford and Justin Williams.

This list is intriguing, mostly in that the thought-to-be-diminutive Loktionov ranked third.  Forgetting for a moment how truly awesome of a fact this is, there is only one question on my mind… where does Anze Kopitar rank?

Perhaps we simply don’t know enough about these tests.  Do they evenly balance strength with endurance?  I assume they must.  Strength has never been a problem for Kopitar.  He is strong like bull.

Endurance is another matter entirely, and a critical one.

Photo by Kasey Spatz

Kopitar’s sole criticism has been his ability to keep up the same level of dynamic effort in the dying minutes of a game and the final games of a season.  He has been challenged for the last two off-seasons to rise above his past conditioning level and become not just the most offensively gifted player on the Kings, but the fittest.

Rich Clune is an animal, but he should not represent the hallmark of physicality for the LA Kings.

Maybe Kopitar is #6 on the list.  That would be make me feel better.

But maybe he is 15th.  Or 30th. We just don’t know.

What I do know is that at the end of the training camp practices I have personally witnessed, Kopitar appeared to be more gassed than his counterparts on the ice.  We all know the classic exhausted expression that overcomes Anze’s face toward the end of games.  Its good to be tired, it means you have worked very hard.  But tired can’t happen, or rather, exhaustion cannot dominate with 10 minutes left in the third.  On the final face-off draw against Ryan Getzlaf or the game-deciding board battle against Jarome Iginla, Kopitar must be able to utilize the same amount of energy as he could while David Courtney announced for the first time of the night, “Ladies & Gentlemen, Your Los Angeles Kings!”

In between the intense skating sessions Murray demands at the end of practices, I watched Kopitar gasp for air as Ryan Smyth glided past no worse for wear.  It is impossible to tell whether this is because Kopitar has not improved his conditioning, Smyth (and others) simply know how to get the most out of their bodies, or whether Kopitar is pushing himself to and beyond the extremes of his endurance.  It is common for veterans to better understand energy conservation and expenditure.  It would be a good thing for Kopitar to work up to and through ‘the wall’ in each and every practice.  Without knowing the inner workings of what I was watching, I can only comment that towards the end of practices, Kopitar’s skating becomes labored and his breath heavy.

Regardless of whether Kopitar’s conditioning has improved for the upcoming season, and despite the remarkable strength of Clifford, Brown and Clune and surprising athleticism of Loktionov and Williams, Kopitar must at some point rise to the top of that list.  Its not outrageous to say the Kings’ future rides on it.

I will be watching Kopitar more closely this season than ever before.  His endurance must not wane throughout the season.  His elite level of play must remain consistent.  The upshot is that nothing has changed on my end going into Kopitar’s fifth NHL season.

As a proud Kopitarian, I believe in Anze.

Categories: L.A. Kings News

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6 replies

  1. I have to admit that I was a bit concerned when Anze said at the end of last season that he would be working out at home, rather than with the team, as he did the prior preseason. This is definitely an area that he needs to improve on if he is to attain that superstar status, that he has shown glimpses that he is capable of. We need for him to get there. The grind of the 82 games of the regular season will leave him with not enough left in the tank for the 20+ he’ll have to play in the post season, particularly as he becomes a bigger and bigger target for the opposing D.

  2. I hope that this is something that AK can work through. Remember that he kills penalties too, and this may be an extra energy drain on his endurance throughout games.

    One wonders if his conditioning issues represent lack of effort (or even worse, lack of insight) on his part, or he has been diligently working on this and is doing the best he can, having reached a plateau.

    I agree that he needs to rise towards the top of the list. However, I am not sure he is capable.

    As a separate issue, kudos to Justin Williams for working so hard in the offseason. Hopefully he’ll prove his detractors wrong.

  3. A big part is regulation. But there is no sub for conditioning.

    AK was alone last season and asked to carry a lot of weight. Perhaps more then reasonable. By game 75 he looked the part…and there was no one to step up. No better reason to find a 30 goal guy for the team.

    The man is a monster but in sports who is going to be there in the end, the bulked out weight lifter or the long distance runner?

    • Problem is that for not insignificant stretches throughout the season, he did not “carry” the team. After a red hot start, he went for quite a long stretch with minimal scoring.

      I will concede that the team may be relying on him too much. Having said that, he is the highest paid player on the team, and for his pay level the expectations should be high.

    • You have a point about carrying too much of the load. I would argue however that he was carrying so much of the load due to players not performing up to their abilities and expectations due to injury or otherwise. Stoll, Williams, Parse, Smyth (in the playoffs), Johnson (the first half of the season), Brown. All of these guys need to score more goals, and they will achieve this only of their own volition. Even though they require Anze’s help, the action on the receiving end could have been better and should be this season.

      Even were Kovalchuk on the team, the load would still be Kopitar’s to carry. He better get used to it, and love it, if he wants to raise the Cup as a King.


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