Over his 19-plus years, Kopitar put it all together. He’s now the Kings’ future, the hope of a franchise that hasn’t had much in recent years. Barring any unforeseen regression, he will be the Kings’ next Wayne Gretzky. Unfair expectations? Maybe. But Kopitar is young, big, quick and has the instincts of a player 10 years his senior. With 54 points in 61 games as a rookie, Kopitar is off to a brilliant start. But it’s just a start. “I mean, look at him. He’s still a baby,” Kings coach Marc Crawford said with wonder as Kopitar walked through the Kings training facility wearing a backward cap and looking very much like an average teenager. In appearance, yes. In terms of hockey talent, certainly not. Less than five months into his NHL career, Kopitar is the Kings’ No. 1 center and the team’s leader in average ice time among forwards. Kopitar, at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, is a physical beast with quick hands and superb vision. He’s not afraid to carry the puck out of his own zone and, despite his obvious scoring talents, he’s a talented playmaker. The motivation? It came from the desire to put his tiny former Eastern bloc country on the hockey map. The work ethic? It sprung from childhood days spent waiting tables at his mother’s restaurant. “He’s the real deal,” said future Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille, who holds the Kings rookie scoring record with 84 points. “With the way he plays the game, he’s the kind of guy you build your team around.” Best of all for the Kings, Kopitar has the desire to be great and to do it the right way. His demeanor betrays only a quiet confidence without any hint of cockiness or entitlement. Kopitar is unlikely to win the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year – Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin has 13 more points and much more hype – but Kopitar has high hopes for the Kings and himself. Asked if he has the desire to be among the next generation of NHL standouts, Kopitar said, “Always. That’s why I chose to try to make it to the NHL. I could have just stayed home and maybe be good, but I knew if I wanted to be great I had to move. I’m going to try to keep going and not just stop now and be happy.” The journey started in the town of Jesenice in Slovenia, which broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991 and had no hockey heritage of its own. NHL games were rare on Slovenian television, but with the assistance of his father, Matjaz, a well-regarded coach in Slovenia’s pro league, Kopitar learned quickly. The Kopitars obtained videos of NHL games and Anze quickly took to the style of Fedorov and became something to watch. “I learned fast because I was usually the young guy,” Kopitar said. “When I was 14 or 15 I was playing with guys two or three years older than me and even then, they counted on me to be a leader.” At age 15, Kopitar played in an under-18 league in Slovenia and scored 38 goals and had 38 assists in 14 games. Those astounding numbers led to him being signed by a Slovenian pro team later that season. Kopitar averaged a point per game in two seasons in Slovenia, but his big move came in 2004 when he left to play in the Swedish Elite League. He spent most of the year on the juniors team, but did well enough to get picked in the first round, 11th overall, by the Kings in the 2005 draft. Kopitar had been highly rated, but some teams questioned his background. No player from Slovenia had ever made the NHL. Would Kopitar’s talent measure up? “Coming from a country that wasn’t on the hockey radar,” Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said, “he had to prove himself at every stage. He just played and didn’t have to worry about sideshows.” [email protected] (818) 713-3607 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! LOS ANGELES – Anze Kopitar, the Kings’ hockey savior, grew up in a city of 21,000 people, just more than the capacity of Staples Center. It turns out that steel mill town in northern Slovenia gave Kopitar all he needed. The talent? It blossomed, nurtured by a hockey coach father and assisted by videos of Sergei Fedorov.