Heard of him? He is the 19-year-old rookie center who represented the L.A. Kings in this year's YoungStars game.
The 11th pick in the 2005 draft, he is the first Slovenian player to play in the NHL and he made an instant splash this season when he scored two goals in his NHL debut on October 6 in Anaheim, then followed with three assists in his home debut the next night.
|Image from TSN.ca|
If you're only a passive NHL fan -- or a die hard Washington fan devoting all your NHL-watching energy on the Caps -- you're forgiven if you have no idea who Kopitar is.
Actually, you can blame the NHL and its ridiculous schedule that pits teams against divisional opponents a total of 32 times a year.
Every hockey fan should know who Kopitar is, but why would Eastern media outlets write about Kopitar if he never pays a visit to their cities? Similarly, I don't think I've seen the Sharks' Jonathan Cheechoo play for more than a total of two minutes, and he led the NHL in goals last year.
When Kopitar and the Kings leave Verizon Center after the game tonight it will be the last they see of the place until the 2009-2010 season unless the NHL votes to change the schedule in the meantime, which they failed to do just last month.
Kopitar and 24-year-old teammate Alexander Frolov (28 goals, 27 assists) are two of the more exciting players in the game, playing on a team trying to build itself from the ground up much like the Capitals.
If you want to see Cheechoo or Sharks teammate Joe Thornton, you better buy tickets for the Feb. 21 game at Verizon Center -- otherwise seeing them before 2009 will require plane tickets.
Only six Western Conference teams make it to Washington this season (Minnesota, Dallas, Anaheim and Phoenix have come and gone), so if you were really hoping to see the red hot Predators or you're still holding on to fond memories of Peter Bondra even though he's in a Blackhawks sweater, better luck next year -- maybe.
But don't worry, the NHL is letting you get all the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers you can handle -- four times each at the Verizon Center every year, to be exact.
The worst part for the Capitals (and Caps fans who like to travel) is that the weighted schedule also cuts down on the number of games that the Capitals play against other divisions in the East.
The beneficiaries of the current schedule setup are teams in the Atlantic division, where every team is in Pennsylvania, New York or New Jersey. But the closest team to the Capitals in their own Southeast Division is farther away from Washington than the farthest Atlantic Division team. (Raleigh, N.C., where the Hurricanes play, is about 260 miles driving from Washington, whereas the Islanders home in Uniondale, N.Y., is about a 250 mile drive from the District.)
But division alignments are an argument for a different day -- one that many Caps fans longing for the good old days of the Patrick Division would love to make to anyone who will listen.
The schedule doesn't even make financial sense, though. The idea was to create intradivisional rivalries and capitalize on those match-ups the maximum number of times, but most Capitals fans still feel their main rivals are the Penguins and Flyers (again with the Patrick Division...). Plus the NHL is sending Alexander Ovechkin to non-hockey towns like Tampa, Raleigh, Atlanta and Miami a total of 16 times a year while depriving fans in Canada and the Northwest U.S. who are clamoring to see the young star.
As for Kopitar and Frolov, there's no reason to think Washington will see more of the L.A. Kings or their Western Conference counterparts any time soon.