During a rebuild, all eyes generally fall upon the players being promoted from the minors. The prospects that have something to prove. The winning pieces to future championships. It’s an important part of the process that all teams go through. Yet, when putting together a young winning team, certain puzzle pieces can be overlooked, especially the grizzled veterans.
Sure, the young stars have made an impact, but the team has quietly crawled into the West Division’s fourth seed, in large part due to these veterans – like Kopitar, Brown, Quick, and Doughty. Each one of these players has been with the team for over a decade, a rare feat as a hockey player, and each one of these players were present for Los Angeles’ two championships in 2012 and 2014.
They have helped the team find its identity after a rough start to the 2021 season especially during its current five game win streak. The veterans aren’t just here to teach a lesson about winning to the prospects. They will do everything they can to experience it with them. Their knowledge has already contributed to excellent play by Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Gabriel Vilardi, and Cal Peterson. One may think that after a decade or more in the league a player would be past their prime, but from the looks of it, each one of these guys has a little gas left in the tank.
At 33 years of age, Kopitar is having the best start to his career. He was named the Honda West’s Division Player of the Month in January with five multi-point performances. He ranked fourth in the NHL with 11 assists and seventh with 12 points in eight games, one of which included his 54th career game winning goal. His seven-game point streak was snapped last night against the Blues but he certainly won’t be giving up since he’s only 29 points away from 1,000! Anze currently sits at 4 goals, 17 assists, and 21 points.
Brown has had his down seasons but overall has been one of the most consistent players in the game. And, with his 300th goal coming earlier this season, it looks like it put a little pep in his skate. He has 10 goals, 6 assists, and 16 points in 17 games this season – two goals coming in the win against the Blues last night. It took him half a season last year to get to those numbers. Brown is a pivotal part of the rebuild, and although he has thought in the past that he might be traded away for younger pieces, his heart is still with the Kings. After playing 1,200 games with the organization, how could it not be!
The veteran defenseman has certainly made a name for himself over the last decade as one of the best in the game. And like Brown and Kopitar, his experience is imperative to the young core coming in behind him. After losing five straight in February, the team readjusted and found a winning formula. They have won their last five games. Something Doughty contributes to his teammates being in the right spots. “I guess what most people are looking at is I’m getting points, but that’s just my teammates being in good spots, making good plays to me, and when I make it to them, they’re making good plays off of it,” said Doughty to the LA Daily News. “So, I definitely feel really good.” Doughty’s defense isn’t the only thing helping in these winning games, his offensive output has been on point with 4 goals, 11 assists, and 15 points. He ranks in the top ten defensemen in each of those categories.
Quick has been the subject to some trade rumors now that backup (and expected successor) goalie Cal Peterson is ready and waiting in the wings. And while the netminder knows this is certainly a possibility, in his nine games played so far, he has 2 shutouts, a .903 save percentage, and a 2.82 goals against average. That’s a little above the average starting goaltender but the five-game skid definitely plays a factor. In the last four games, Quick has been quite impressive blanking both the Wild and the Blues – earning his 54th career shutout in the process. He is the 25th all time shutout leader in NHL history.
It can be nerve racking for a veteran during a rebuild. There is a fear of being traded away for new pieces or being replaced by the person that player was ten years prior. Each player understands that those situations come with the territory of the sport and that if you’re with a team long enough, rebuilds are inevitable. It’s an uncertain business for everyone involved. But no matter where you are, Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York, whether you’re young or old, fast or slow, the moment you put that skate on the ice, it’s “pucks on net!”