Pacific Division 2014-15 Preview: Los Angeles Kings
COACH: Darryl Sutter
2013-14 RECORD: 46-28-8, 100 points (third in Pacific, won Stanley Cup)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.41 goals-for per game (26th); 2.05 goals-against per game (1st); 15.1 power play pct. (27th); 83.1 penalty kill pct. (11th); shootout record: 8-6 (9th)
NOTABLE ARRIVALS: None
NOTABLE DEPARTURES: D Willie Mitchell
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Marian Gaborik — Anze Kopitar — Justin Williams
Dwight King — Jeff Carter — Dustin Brown
Tanner Pearson — Mike Richards — Tyler Toffoli
Kyle Clifford — Jarret Stoll — Trevor Lewis
OUTLOOK: Minus only defenseman Willie Mitchell, L.A.'s Cup-winning roster returns. Gaze at the depth chart and the team's exemplary balance and stability is obvious. Along with a superb two-way center (Anze Kopitar), a true cornerstone defenseman (Drew Doughty), and one of the league’s most trusted goalies (Jonathan Quick), there are now goal-scoring options on the top three lines. (Tyler Toffoli has continually improved since his second call-up in 2012.) The Kings’ most notable offseason move was inking Marian Gaborik, who scored 16 points in 19 regular season games and a league-leading 14 goals in the playoffs after coming to L.A. at the trade deadline, to a seven-year, $34 million deal. The three-time All-Star can now settle in with a club that is ideally suited to his abilities and provide the scoring-challenged Kings with a needed boost. (They finished 26th in goals per game last season.) Scoring woes may still afflict the offense during the regular season (as they have since L.A.’s 2012 Cup run), and there is always the dreaded Cup hangover to fear (though the Kings insist they're still thirsty for another drink of championship bubbly), but even if worse comes to worst and they have to grab one of the last playoff spots, they remain one of hockey’s most feared teams when the games matter most.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Tanner Pearson
Pearson should probably share this honor with Toffoli, as the two youngsters (both are 22) thrived after teaming up with Jeff Carter on “That 70s Line,” one of the Kings’ best units during the playoffs. Despite only 25 regular season games of experience, Pearson was active for 24 of the Kings’ 26 playoff games and logged four goals and three assists. He and Toffoli are similar wings, both stand at about 6-feet and are in the range of 200 pounds, who provide the third line with a dose of speed. Darryl Sutter, like virtually any coach, enjoys shuffling his lines. Whoever centers Toffoli and Pearson’s line will likely learn, as Carter did in the playoffs, that both can be exceptionally productive to work with.
PREDICTION: 104 points (second in Pacific)