The 11th overall selection in the 2005 draft, the 6-4 center is the first player in league history from the country of Slovenia. Raised in the steel town of Jesenice, across the border from Austria, Kopitar’s unfamiliar background had scouts questioning whether he was early first round material despite his obvious gifts. “To be honest,” said a scout who follows European amateurs for a Western Conference team, “Kopitar was so big and so skilled that if he was from Saskatoon, he would have been a top-3 pick. Slovenia was the great unknown.”
“No weaknesses … He was playing against the best and held his own. He had star potential and we knew the rest of the league would be following him.”The tantalizing prospect was first “identified” — scout-talk for “Hey, we have to keep an eye on this kid” — by former European bird-dog Ari Vuori for the Kings. Pro scout Rob Laird and then-GM Dave Taylor spent a lot of time at the 2005 World Championships in Sweden mesmerized by Kopitar’s immense talents. “No weaknesses, great size and reach, took passes 15 feet in front of him, composure, work ethic,” Laird recalled of Kopitar. “He was playing against the best and held his own. He had star potential and we knew the rest of the league would be following him.” (The hockey gods have since rewarded Vuori, now the owner of a Stanley Cup ring as a scout for Detroit).