Wayne Gretzky told Hockey Night in Canada last night that he believes Anze Kopitar is the third best player in the NHL right now behind Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews. The Great One also believes the series could revolve around the big Slovenian. Heady praise, coming from the greatest player of all time.
If his other business ventures don’t pan out, this Gretzky kid just might have a future in hockey broadcasting.
In the pre-game show before Game 1, ‘The Great One’ spoke with conviction, offering his opinions and analysis to Hockey Night in Canada's Ron MacLean as if he’d actually given this stuff some serious thought.
Among his observations:
• The Los Angeles-New York final is a bonanza for the NHL (OK, not rocket surgery material, but position-taking nonetheless). “I always used to say when I played in L.A., the greatest thing to ever happen to the National Hockey League would be an L.A.-New York final and we’re having it now.”
• He loves the way the game has evolved, particularly from the dark ages of the Dead Puck Era. “I like the style both teams play. Thank goodness we don’t play the trap any more with four guys back and one guy forechecking.”
• He likened the Henrik Lundqvist-Jonathan Quick matchup to the terrific Grant Fuhr-vs.-Ron Hextall battle in 1987. And says in Kings blueliner Drew Doughty he sees a lot of Brian Leetch
• That Darryl Sutter “might be” the best coach in the NHL right now, primarily because of the way he has adapted to changing styles and learned to handle today’s players.
But the real bombshell was his take on Kings center Anze Kopitar. Gretzky’s proclaimed the final to be “Kopitar’s series”.
“I think Anze Kopitar right now is the third best player in the National Hockey League only behind Crosby and Toews and he’s getting better every game.
“To me, Kopitar’s the guy; he plays defensively, he takes all the key faceoffs, he can get the big goal and make big plays offensively. I think this series could revolve around him. If he plays the way he can play, it’s going to be tough for the Rangers to combat that.”
It’s extremely heady praise coming from the greatest player of all-time. And it also underscores the mercurial/volatile nature of how players develop and how they’re perceived. In The Hockey News’ Top 50 Players ranking entering 2013-14, Kopitar ranked a respectable 22nd. While we understand the list contains elements of subjectivity, it is based on feedback we receive from a large cross-section of industry experts. Nobody had Kopitar in the conversation as one of the NHL’s top three last summer.
A year earlier, following Los Angeles’ Stanley Cup win in 2012, Kopitar placed eighth on that same list.
Here’s last summer’s Top 10:
1. Sidney Crosby
2. Alex Ovechkin
3. Steven Stamkos
4. Erik Karlsson
5. John Tavares
6. Jonathan Toews
7. Evgeni Malkin
8. Patrick Kane
9. Patrice Bergeron
10. Drew Doughty
We’re in the process of compiling our 2014 ranking and I’d be shocked if Kopitar doesn’t crack the Top 10 after his performance this spring. Heck, he might even be top five.
Where would you put him?