Once again, the Pacific will be a dogfight among its three best teams -- the Stars, Sharks and Ducks -- but it's quite likely that one of its young and usually downtrodden members will finally claw its way into the fray: the Coyotes. As for the Kings and their impressive array of potential, well, they're still a playoff contender under construction. Give 'em some more time.
I've already addressed the
Once No. 1 defender
As long as
It cost former GM
The Stars won an intense free-agent bidding war for the late-blooming Swede last May. Now it's time to see whether those scouting comparisons to
Avoiding suspensions and long-term injuries for the first time in his career, Avery will play all 82 games and hit the 20-goal mark.
When the frontline includes
The Sharks have been one of the league's most fearsome predators over the past four seasons, averaging 104 points during the buildup to the playoffs. But once the games start to count, this team loses its bite. Expectations ran high last spring, and yet another failure to advance past the second round led to the sacking of former coach
It plays off a cliché, but it's true: If Nabokov dressed for an Eastern conference team, odds are that he, not
The Sharks expect to enter the season with a veteran lineup, although rookie
Let's face it: no one faces more pressure in San Jose this season than the captain. Marleau was brutal last season, and his struggles (compounded by the weight of a hefty contract) posed a significant stumbling block for the team. There won't be a repeat. McLellan's approach, expected to mirror the one he helped craft in Detroit, should take full advantage of Marleau's speed and guile. Look for a big bounce-back year for the veteran.
There are plenty of stars on a club that is just more than a year removed from a Stanley Cup, but no unit is more sound than the netminding duo of
Any blueline that boasts
Great things seem possible after his breakout campaign (82 points, plus-32 rating), and Getzlaf is ready to build on that success. He's the engine that drives Anaheim's offense, both figuratively and literally. The 6-3, 221-pound center is virtually unstoppable when controlling the puck or fighting for position out front. His ability to pick holes through tight coverage and pinpoint his teammates will make
With the Ducks in cap purgatory, they're forced to hope for a significant contribution from their consolation prize in the
The team's biggest failing last season may turn out to be a strength.
Once you get past the first line, the Coyotes are long on potential but short on time served. Gretzky's coaching abilities will be tested as he attempts not only to acclimate his youngsters to the rigors of the NHL, but to one another. The addition of enforcers McGrattan and Fedoruk should buy the kids a little more room to operate, but it could be a rough start for Phoenix as they try to work in so many new parts.
The Coyotes were legitimate contenders for the services of
He surprised observers by leaving college after his freshman season, but no one was shocked to see how comfortably the third overall pick of 2007 fit in with the Coyotes during their final three games. With Mueller full time on the first line's wing, Turris steps in as the No. 2 center behind Jokinen. A player who can be effective in all three zones, but is especially dynamic on the attack, Mueller will be in the running for the Calder.
Still in the midst of a youth movement that saw them work in four rookies last year, the Coyotes roster could be littered with pups to start the season.
They may not be old enough to remember when Gretzky wore the black and silver crown, but this new generation of Kings is slowly building towards a return to the glories of the Great One's era. Led by
The Kings ranked 28th in both shots (32) and goals-allowed per game (3.21) last season. It could get worse this time around. Although he's finally attacked his weight problem, Jason LaBarbera and likely partner
Talk of the most exciting young American players in the game routinely centers around
The rebuilding Kings will ice a slew of freshmen this season, but none look to have the immediate impact of the second-overall pick from last June's entry draft. The 6-0, 219-pound blueliner has impressed in camp with his quick, accurate reads and sharp passing skills. He'll be a solid 20-minute performer, and could provide a jolt to L.A.'s 17th-ranked power play.
When a team finishes last in its conference, there are going to be jobs up for grabs, so the Kings are counting on contributions from forwards
After racking up 83 points in just 67 games as a rookie with AHL Manchester last season, the 23-year-old right wing will make the jump to the Kings and score in the vicinity of 15 goals and 50 points as a freshman.