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Alexander: Will Anze Kopitar’s 1,000th point be a quiet milestone?

Outside of Los Angeles – and maybe in some precincts within SoCal as well – this will likely be a quiet milestone. At some point in the next six games, possibly as early as Wednesday night in Glendale, Ariz., the Kings’ Anze Kopitar will score a goal or register an assist for his 1,000th career point in the NHL.

It will be celebrated among those who care about the Kings. Elsewhere in the NHL, odds are that it will be underplayed. That pretty much has been the story of Kopitar’s career, one that has deserved much more attention continent-wide than it has received.

Kopitar, 33, will play in his 1,124th career game Wednesday night against the Arizona Coyotes. That’s 107 fewer than Dustin Brown, a teammate (and usually linemate) throughout Kopitar’s 15 seasons in Los Angeles. Brown talked a couple of weeks ago about how such milestones tend to be off the radar anyway until you get close.

“It just kind of happens over the course of time,” Brown said, adding with a laugh, “And if anything, he’d probably be there (over 1,000) already if he wasn’t playing with me for 15 years.”

Yes, he was joking. But maybe there is a germ of truth, because Kopitar – with his size and his skill making him a handful almost from the moment he arrived in L.A. from Slovenia – didn’t chase individual numbers. It probably cost him at least one Hart Trophy as MVP,  maybe more.

“If this guy wanted to cheat, he could probably get 15 or 20 more points each year,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet told the Phoenix-area media Monday morning. “I know he could if he wanted to. But he plays a 200-foot game. He takes every important draw, D-zone draws, he’s used in every situation. He leaves a lot of points out there because he’s a team-first guy. That’s why they won two Cups.”

Do the math. Just 15 extra points a season would have had him just outside of the top 40 on the all-time list, in the neighborhood where the no-doubt Hall of Famers reside.

But there’s another factor, as Kings coach Todd McLellan pointed out Tuesday. Just by the nature of the Kings’ style during the team’s (and Kopitar’s) prime years, there weren’t many points to be had.

“For him to be as consistent as he’s been, to play as well as he’s played on the other side of the puck, to check as well as he’s checked … L.A. (wasn’t) an offensive juggernaut,” he said. “They (were) a checking, heavy, hard team throughout their glory years and won a lot of games 2-1 and 3-2, not 6-4. And to get to where he is right now, on a brink of a thousand, I think is an incredible milestone for him.”

Tocchet said he considered Kopitar in Sidney Crosby’s class, and that is high praise. Remember, Crosby went No. 1 overall to Pittsburgh in the 2005 draft, with the Penguins winning a lottery for that top pick following the lockout-canceled 2004-05 season. Kopitar went 11th overall to the Kings in that draft, and after playing the 2005-06 season for the Sodertalje SK junior team in his home country he was in the NHL to stay the next season.

He joined a team that hadn’t reached the postseason since 2002. But with Kopitar, Brown, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick forming a nucleus augmented by Dean Lombardi’s acquisitions, the Kings were champions in 2012 and ’14 and Western Conference finalists in ’13. Night after night, Kopitar played a caliber of hockey that should have earned him more MVP consideration.

Part of the problem was that he, and they, played most of their games when the opinion-shapers in the Eastern time zone were between bedtime and last call. Not until the Kings had won a Cup did Kopitar begin to get serious consideration for major awards; he won the Selke Trophy for best defensive forward in 2016 and ’18 and the Lady Byng for gentlemanly play in ’16, but it’s not as if his play in those categories had suddenly spiked upward.

It hasn’t dipped much, either. He had career-highs of 35 goals and 92 points in 2018, at age 30, when the Kings got back to the postseason after a three-year absence only to be swept by Vegas in the first round. In the current shortened season, Kopitar has 13 goals and 49 points in 50 games, is averaging 21:16 ice time per game, has a career-high 57.6 faceoff percentage and earned a divisional player of the month honor in January.

And he, Brown, Doughty and Quick are mentoring the next generation. Quinton Byfield, the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft who made his NHL debut last week, talked then about how Kopitar “talked to me a lot, showed me the ropes,” but also led by example and the way he does the little things consistently.

“It doesn’t happen by accident,” Kings forward Trevor Moore said. “The guy does it right every single day. He’s here early. He’s always a guy you can follow and look up to.”

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