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.
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.