Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar needs a better PR department.
While many have spent the playoffs debating whether or not Chicago's Jonathan Toews has passed Sidney Crosby as the best player in the league (he still hasn't, by the way), there is a more realistic debate that's being ignored: Has Kopitar passed Toews as the second best player in the league?
The only notable person around hockey that I've ever seen make such a statement has been his own coach, Darryl Sutter, when he threw this line into an answer back in March before a game against Pittsburgh.
"You might argue that the best player, other than Kopitar, in the league, is Crosby."
And you know what? Even if he was just trying to pump up his own player or giving the type of answer that Darryl Sutter usually gives at news conferences, he may not have been wrong when he said it. Kopitar just might be the second best player in hockey right now, and it's long past time we started paying attention to it.
Better than Toews?
Just consider the success Kopitar has had over the past few years and it's stunning that he doesn't get more consideration in these best player arguments or have a higher reputation among the NHL's elite players. That's especially true when he's pretty much a carbon copy of more heralded players like Toews or Boston's Patrice Bergeron, who always seem to come out ahead of him when the best players in the league are discussed or voted on.
He's probably better than both of them. He just doesn't have the Canadian media machine promoting him, and instead of having an original six logo covering his chest, he plays his games on the west coast.
Scoring, defense, puck possession: Kopi has it all
Pretty much everything you could want from a top player, Kopitar has. Individual skills and production. Team success. Being just as good away from the puck as he is with the puck.
But whether you're looking at his contributions on a stat sheet or are giving him the eye test, it should be pretty clear that you're watching a pretty special player that is still in the prime of his career.
He is an incredibly skilled offensive player who is usually good for between 70 and 80 points while being asked to play against the other team's best players, and is also one of the very best defensive players in hockey that can be trusted in every situation.
Since the start of the 2011-12 season with Kopitar on the ice at even-strength, the Kings have attempted 60 percent of the shot attempts (the third best mark in the NHL, behind only Kopitar's teammate Justin Williams and Bergeron) and scored more than 61 percent of the goals. He's also averaged more than two minutes of shorthanded ice-time per game over that stretch (tops among Kings forwards) and has 53 power play points.
A proven winner
The past three years of Kopitar's career, both in the NHL and briefly on the International stage (almost single handedly leading Slovenia, in its first ever Olympic hockey competition, to the second round of the tournament that included a dominating win over Slovakia), have been as impressive as any other player in the world.
His team is in the conference finals for the third straight year (something that only one other team, the 2006-09 Detroit Red Wings, has accomplished in the salary cap era) and is one win away from playing in the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three years (something only three teams in the salary cap era would be able to claim).
He already has his name on the Cup.
And with all apologies to Jonathan Quick and his incredible 2012 postseason run that won him the Conn Smythe Trophy, Kopitar was the best player on that team, leading the postseason in scoring and posting a dominant 56 percent Corsi percentage along the way.
He's once again the NHL's leading scorer in the playoffs (by a wide margin), and if he's able to maintain that lead he would become just the 10th player in the modern era to do so more than once, joining a list that includes Wayne Gretzky, Phil Esposito, Mario Lemieux, David Krejci, Joe Sakic, Guy Lafleur, Bryan Trottier, Rick Macleish and Peter Forsberg.
Quick got all of the headlines in 2012, because goalies usually do in the playoffs no matter what they do or how well they play, but it was Kopitar that was the one driving the Kings' team bus to the Cup.
He's doing it again this season, and he's probably the biggest reason Los Angeles is on the brink of another Western Conference title.