Anze advanced

DEREK VAN DIEST, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

Anze Kopitar was originally slated to start the season in the minors. However, the 19-year-old Slovenian was such a standout at training camp, the Los Angeles Kings were forced to put him in their opening night lineup.

He's been a Kings' staple ever since.

"Our feeling was that we were ready to put him in Manchester - our American League affiliate - and let him develop the way most players have to develop as they come up," said Kings head coach Marc Crawford.

"He came to training camp very determined to bypass that step. With (GM) Dean (Lombardi) it would have taken 21 or 22 days of him being the best player at camp to change his mind and he did that.

"Every day, it became more and more apparent that he was ready; and it became more and more apparent that he wasn't going to let us send him down."

PROVED 'EM RIGHT

It didn't take long for Kopitar (whose first name is pronounced Ahn-jhay) to show the Kings they had made the right move. He went and scored two goals in his NHL debut, blowing by Anaheim Ducks defenceman Chris Pronger on his first.

Now he's considered one of the NHL's top rookies.

With two assists last night against the Oilers, Kopitar moved into first in NHL rookie scoring with 11 goals and 24 assists in 39 games.

"This kid is something special," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

"He's got the size, the skill. His skating was a question mark when I saw him at the world championships, but there is nobody questioning his skating now. He's got great balance on his skates, has good puck protection, he uses his size well. He's a good player."

The Kings agree.

"Anze is a great kid and I think he's going to be a great player in this league for a long time," Crawford said.

"Part of it is talent, part of it is upbringing and the other part of it is that he's smart enough to hang around the right people and listen to the right people."

FACE OF THE FRANCHISE

In a town where hockey takes a backseat to a number of other sports, Kopitar has become the face of the franchise in Los Angeles.

He's also become a celebrity in Slovenia where basketball and soccer players are revered.

"Being the first player to play in the NHL is a pretty big thing in Slovenia," he said. "Hockey is not big there, but it's getting bigger now."


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