Anze Kopitar’s torrid start and the magical fourth season

Los Angeles Kings’ forward Anze Kopitar is off to a torrid start this season, but it does not come as a surprise to many fantasy hockey pundits. After 19 games, the 22 year-old centre, has already scored 14 goals and notched 16 assists for an exceptional 30 points. A 1.58 point-per-game pace that would be good for 130 points over a full season. As of today, Kopitar has a seven-point lead over any other player in the NHL. Marleau, Nash and Ovechkin each have 23 points, good for the second rank.

Kopitar is also +9, compared to last year’s dismal -17, on a very
improved Kings team. Playing with Ryan Smyth (22 points in 19 games)
and Justin Williams (15 points in 14 games) has also helped Kopitar
dramatically improve his offensive game and all-around hockey awareness.

The big Slovenian is creating offensive opportunities for himself by
using his great hands and vision to put defensemen in impossible
situations. He has developped good chemistry with Smyth and Williams
so, barring an injury, except Kopitar to finish the season with at
least 100 points.

Drafted 11th overall by the Kings in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft,
Kopitar was ranked the top player coming out of Europe that year. We
can say without any doubt that he’s the second best player coming out
of the 2005 selection. The best one being none other than Sidney
Crosby.

After consecutive seasons of 61, 77 and 66 points, his prolific
talent and drive are finally leading him to the top in the NHL. But
Kopitar is not the only star player to explode on his fourth season.
You will find below a few of those rising stars.

According to Dobber (www.dobberhockey.com):

Roughly speaking, offensive players make big jumps in
their production in years two through six. In the fourth year, 24
percent of players jump by 25 percent. This is a rough guide for a
breakout year for players entering their second, third, fourth, fifth,
or sixth seasons: 14%, 17%, 24%, 14%, 9%… and go with 5% for seventh
seasons and beyond.

Edmonton’s Dustin Penner is also a 4th year player
who comes to mind with consecutive seasons of 45, 47 and 37 points
(excluding the 2005-06 where he only played 19 games). Penner has
already 22 points in 19 games and has been scoring in bunches with a
4-point game and a 5-point game. He likely won’t keep his PPG pace, but
should end up above 60 points, a big increase over his previous seasons.

Dallas’ Loui Eriksson is also having a nice 4th
season with 15 points in 17 games, which should surpass last season’s
production of 63 points (which came as a pleasant surprise). The
Swedish winger is well-surrounded in Dallas with the likes of Morrow,
Ribeiro and Richards.

Colorado’s Paul Stastny, also drafted in 2005, is
having a great year with the surprising Avalanches. After 19 games,
Stastny has already 18 points, on pace for an 80-point season. The
Quebec City native, had a 78-point rookie season, but injuries have
slowed him down the past two seasons.

Stastny’s teammate Wojtek Wolski, also a 4th year
player, is off to a terrific start with 16 points in 19 games. Wolski
is currently on pace for 70 points, 20 more points than his 50-point
rookie season, his best season overall.

New Jersey’s Travis Zajac is entering his fourth
season and is off to a good start with 13 points in 16 games even if
he’s playing for Jacques Lemaire. Zajac had a breakout season in
2008-09 with 62 points, so don’t expect a big increase in points, but
he should finish the season with 70 points. Playing with Zach Parise
certainly helps.

San Jose’s Joe Pavelski is back from his broken
foot injury and after only four games he already has six points. He had
seasons of 28, 40 and 59 points before, so expect him to finish with
about a 0.9 PPG pace, which results in about 65 points over 70 games.

Toronto’s Phil Kessel is a 4th year player who will
get plenty of ice-time with the Leafs under Ron Wilson. Kessel has four
points in four games since coming back from his off-season shoulder
surgery. Expect him to score 65 points in about 65 games in 2009-10.

Finally, Washington’s Tomas Fleischmann is a great
breakout candidate with the most offensive-minded team in the league.
After missing 11 games with a blod clot in his leg, Flash already has
eight points, including six goals, in only seven games. He improved his
offensive stats in every league, every year during his professional
career, so with offensive players like Semin, Ovechkin, Backstrom,
Morrison, Laich, Knuble and Green, Fleischman is a sure gamble for a
magical fourth season.

Notables 4th year players not having good seasons because of
injuries or different factors: Drew Stafford (BUF), Patrick O’Sullivan
(EDM), David Moss (CGY), Valteri Filppula (DET) – currently injured,
David Booth (FLA) – currently injured, Jordan Staal (PIT), Evgeny
Malkin (PIT) – currently injured, David Backes (STL.

Please note that this system disregards defensemen as they tend to develop later (Phaneuf and Weber being exceptions).

So, who did you pick in your hockey drafts before the season?