Europe has the best hockey leagues outside North America and it has been that way since hockey began. Leagues like the Finnish Liiga have produced elite snipers like Teemu Selanne and Patrik Laine, while Sweden and the SHL have produced some of the world’s best skaters and defensemen like Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall and Henrik Zetterberg. Then there is the KHL, which produces elite scorers and playmakers like Nikita Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin.
The Los Angeles Kings, throughout history, have been lucky enough to have their fair share of elite European talent pass through their doors. While it might seem clear to most people who the best European-born player in team history is, there have been other players who match his caliber and one who comes close to beating him. While being a mostly North American-dominated team, the best European players to play for the Kings have also been some of the best players in league history as well. This list will be in a particular order, starting with who I think is the least successful all the way to the one who takes the crown (pun intended) as the best European-born and trained player in LA Kings’ history.
Lubomir Visnovsky was drafted by the Kings in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft in the fourth round, 118th overall. A small and mobile defenseman, Visnovsky skated and passed well, and put up a lot of points from the blue line. He played a total of seven seasons with the Kings and was even awarded an alternate captaincy in his final year with the team. He earned some impressive accolades and achieved impressive statistics during his tenure with the team.
In his rookie season, Visnovsky was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team. In 2006-07, he was invited to NHL All-Star Game. In 2005-06, he scored 67 points. That would be considered a good mark for a forward but for a defenseman, that’s elite. In his seven seasons with the team, Visnovsky played 499 games, scoring 70 goals and 209 assists for a total of 279 points.
Jaroslav Modry was the New Jersey Devils’ ninth-round pick, 179th overall, in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. Although not the biggest player, he had a solid career as a defensive defenseman, putting up good numbers for the Kings. In 2001-02, he scored a career-high 42 points, including 38 assists and was invited to play at the 2002 All-Star Game in Los Angeles, proving himself as a star player.
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Modry spent more than half of his NHL career with the Kings and scored more than half of his career point total, 164 of 250 points, while he was in LA.
Jozef Stumpel was a second-round pick (40th overall) at the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by the Boston Bruins. He was a big, strong center with excellent hockey IQ and a useful two-way player who had a strong passing game. The Kings acquired Stumpel in the summer prior to the start of the 1997-98 season. Stumpel is one of the most successful Slovaks in league history and was a prolific center for the Kings during his time with the team. He is the best Czech or Slovak center who ever played for the team and the one who has played the most games, which goes hand in hand. In his career, he tallied 76 goals and dished out 191 assists for 267 points in 334 games.
Zigmund Palffy, sometimes referred to as “Ziggy,” was a second-round pick (26th overall) in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders, 14 spots ahead of his lifelong friend, Jozef Stumpel. Palffy was a fast and strong skater, something common among the Slovaks on this list. The other commonality he had was a sharp shot he used often to put up lots of goals.
The Islanders traded Palffy to the Kings during the 1999 offseason, where he’d put up impressive points totals. In five seasons in Los Angeles, he played 311 games, scoring 150 goals and adding 190 assists for 340 points. That’s well over a point-per-game, making Palffy the most successful point-getting Slovak in the team’s history.
Anze Kopitar is by far and away the best European player in Kings history, by a long shot. It’s not even close. Kopitar was drafted by the Kings in 2005 with the 11th pick in the first round. Kopitar started out his career by playing in the Slovenian system with HD Jesenice Mladi U20 and HK Kranjska Gora at the age of 15. Kopitar then moved to Sweden to play for Sodertalje SK U18, U20 and Elitserien teams before getting drafted to Los Angeles. Some could argue that playing in Sweden is what got him on the NHL radar.
Not only is Kopitar the best European-born player in Kings’ history, but he’s also one of the best in league history. In his 15-season career that has so far been spent exclusively in LA, Kopitar has played 1,129 games, scored exactly 1,000 points, won TWO Selke trophies, and most importantly, hoisted the Stanley Cup twice. My case for Kopitar is quite easy. He was born, raised and trained in Slovenia, a small country in the South of Europe on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Most people have never heard of Slovenia and the fact he was picked in the top third of the first round makes it all the more impressive, coming from a relatively unknown nation.
The Final Verdict
Kopitar is, plain and simple, the best European-born player in franchise history. He leads every important category for European-born Kings players and shows no signs of slowing down, he is after all only 33 years old. What comes off as rather strange is that almost any list I could find of top European-born NHL players omits Kopitar, which is rather interesting considering he has one Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, two Selke Trophies, and two Stanley Cups. He also sits 15th all-time amongst European-born players in scoring.
When playing at least 80 games in a season, he averages 74.5 points. So if he scores at least 71 points in 2021-22, which is very well possible, he will jump to 10th-best of all European-born NHL players in points. Kopitar will be remembered as a great NHLer and the best European-born Kings player in team history no matter how many lists he appears on or doesn’t, for that matter.
My name is Nicholas Chudoba and I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I am a life long Kings fan and have been around hockey in some capacity being, watching it, writing about it or playing it. I am an avid gear nerd and I take great interest in what equipment the players use. I also take great interest in observing the game and learning from what the professionals do and integrate it into my own skill set. Hockey is the greatest game and I couldn’t be happier having the oppurtunity to write about it!