The term “heart and soul” player doesn’t get thrown around too often.
You can have a skilled player, a tough one, a grinder, speedster, sniper, playmaker or other words that quantify or describe talent but the term “heart and soul”, similar to “warrior”, is reserved for a select few. Heart and soul refers to a complete player that competes on both ends of the ice, is the model of work ethic, leads by example, has the skill set and toughness to play on any line and is looked upon by the team, fans and media as the face of the franchise.
Most teams would by lucky to have one.
We have two.
Anze Kopitar is a superstar. Not a star. Not a great player. He is elite. He came into his own last season with a compliment of offensive and defensive prowess that made him our most valuable player. This season, he is better in every respect. He has, at times, carried the offense. When the puck is on his stick, a play will develop therefrom. I see defenders back off. I see opposing forwards leave a gap and pause to see if Kopitar will make a pass, shoot or hold the puck. In other words, opposing teams are caught “watching him”, something one generally sees when an elite NHL player carries the play. This comes from hesitancy, not knowing how to defend him and afraid to make a mistake that will cause the puck to land in the back of their net. Anze isn’t going to run anyone over but is tough as nails. He isn’t even going to blow by the opposing defender with blazing speed but has a quick first step for a big guy and excellent mid range speed. He uses his size. He has developed an edge and, more than ever, he has lost that shyness about the offensive attack mentality. I don’t view Kopi as a pass first player anymore. Now, when he has the puck, he is the center of attention.
Mike Richards has been a Los Angeles King for all of one summer and a month of regular season play. Philadelphia Flyers captain, proclaimed by most Flyers fans as the face of the franchise, I admittedly had very high expectations which almost always sets me up for disappointment. Disappointed? Hell no. I couldn’t be happier. 11 points in 15 games is nice but that’s not enough for heart and soul. Mike Richards never stops skating. He is captain hustle. On offense, the moment he has the puck, he and it are headed to the net. In the corners, he will take on one, two, or three opponents to come out with the puck. He looks for seams to make tape to tape passes and connects far more often than he misses. On the penalty kill, well, as I tweeted yesterday, he is not a penalty killer, he is a penalty murderer. Richards against 5 opponents is only a bit unfair…to the 5. I take special pleasure knowing that he has only played 15 games with the Kings. That means he will only get better. I love Mike Richards and everything he does.