INNSBRUCK -- When 17-year-old Anze Kopitar is told that some scouts refer to him as a European Sidney Crosby, his face lights up and he says, "I like to hear that."
Perhaps the Crosby comparison might be a slight over-statement. But there's no doubt that this kid is the highest-rated junior in Europe at the moment and will probably be drafted in the top five.
And because he's from Slovenia, not exactly one of the worlds great hockey hotbeds, some scouts feel that he may develop at a greater pace than other draftees once he's exposed to a top-flight system.
Today, he's playing for Slovenia against Canada in the world championship, his third world championship of the year. He played in the under-18 (Division 2), under-20 (Division 1) and was selected as best player and best forward respectively in those two tournaments.
Now, the scouts are here watching him in the hope that there will be a National Hockey League draft and they can get their hands on him.
"It's a great feeling to be getting some of that attention," he said yesterday as he kept an eye on the Canadians, who were practising behind him. "It's a good experience, this championship for me, because of the group that we're in with U.S. and Canada. They're really good teams with NHL stars and I'm really looking forward to playing Canada."
Sometimes, European draft picks have a difficult time adjusting to North America because of language difficulties. But Kopitar speaks good English.
A move to North America would still be something of a culture shock, but he's only too willing to do it. "It's hard to leave home," he said. "But that's the way it is. Hockey is a sport and if you decide to go all the way, you have to go over."