LOS ANGELES — Anze Kopitar will likely reach many milestones this season. The one he did on Saturday night has a little more meaning.
Kopitar skated in his 1,297th game to become the Los Angeles Kings leader in games played. He walked former teammate Dustin Brown during the Kings’ 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins.
“It’s really up there with them all. To be pretty durable throughout my career and to do it just here is something I’m proud of,” Kopitar said. “It’s an honor to be with a franchise and have success and do it with Brownie, Drew (Doughty) and Quickie (Jonathan Quick) for a number of years. A brotherhood was formed and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The feeling is humble.”
The Kings selected Kopitar with the 11th overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He is one of 10 players from that draft still playing. That includes Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby, the top pick that year, and Quick, who went to the Kings in the third round. Quick was in the Los Angeles net for 16 seasons before being traded last season. He is now with the New York Rangers.
Kopitar, Brown, Doughty and Quick were part of the core for the Kings’ two Stanley Cup titles in 2012 and ’14. Brown retired at the end of the 2021-22 season and knew his record wouldn’t last long.
In a taped announcement played during the first period, Brown said, “Two things have to happen for this type of record to be broken. First and foremost, you’re one hell of a player and everyone knows it. And the second thing is that you are old.
The 36-year-old Kopitar laughed as he watched the announcement from the ice, but admitted that knowing who he was beating was a strange feeling.
“I’m passing my very good friend, but if there was a scenario where we could all end up at the same number, I’m sure we’d be happy to sign it,” he said.
Kopitar, who has 395 goals and 751 assists for 1,146 career points, has led the Kings in 15 of the last 17 seasons. He has also been the captain of Los Angeles since 2016.
Kings coach Todd McLellan said he uses Kopitar as an example for younger players while coaching other teams.
“We used it a lot. When we were trying to show the young players key situations and how to play them, we used No. 11,” McLellan said. “He really understands the whole picture. He knows the moments and plays the right way minute by minute.”
Kopitar is fourth among active skaters in games played. The Kings are also the third club that has been around for at least 10 seasons and has a franchise leader in games played still active, joining Washington (Alex Ovechkin) and Pittsburgh (Crosby).
The Kings are also the seventh of the league’s 32 franchises to have their career leader born outside of North America. However, Kopitar is the first player from Slovenia to play in the NHL.
While fans received pucks commemorating the event on Saturday, a ceremony will be held later in the season for all of Kopitar’s major accomplishments. He needs seven assists to pass Marcell Dion for the franchise record. He is five goals short of becoming the fourth player in Kings history to reach the 400-goal mark.
Kopitar also needs nine points to overtake Luc Robitaille for second in the standings.
After signing a two-year extension during the offseason, Kopitar is under contract through the 2025-26 season and shows no signs of slowing down. Last season, he received his second Lady Byng Trophy after having just four penalty minutes in nearly 1,655 minutes of ice time.
Kopitar and Doughty are the elder statesmen of the Kings, who are looking to compete in the Western Conference and win their first playoff series since winning their second title in 2014. Coincidentally, Doughty played in his 1,100th game on Saturday evening.
“It’s a lot easier to stay in one place when you’re already winning than to explore other teams to try and win. I felt great here from the start,” said Kopitar. “It’s been a good journey and it’s not quite over yet. I still have a few years left in me.”