NHL Western Conference Preview 2013-2014 Season: The Pacific Still Has Anaheim but Plenty of Room for Surprise

Last season the Anaheim Ducks were the #2 seed in the Western Conference and as I had predicted they ended up losing to Detroit in the 1st round of the playoffs. Something seemed off about them to begin with Detroit have to fight until the end to make the postseason.

Now they’re in the Eastern Conference, but the West isn’t getting any easier, in fact in their division they have Phoenix and Edmonton, teams that I think will emerge this season as playoff contenders, and may shock some people out the West Coast.

Let’s breakdown the Pacific Division

Anaheim Ducks:

Key Player: Ryan Getzlaf/ Corey Perry

Up and Comer: Devante Smith-Pelly/ Nick Sorenson

The Anaheim Ducks don’t have to worry about the contracts of stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry now that both will be in Southern California for a very long time. But that ultimately led to the Bobby Ryan trade to Ottawa, the Senators traded forwards Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and their first-round pick in next year’s draft to Anaheim.

To go along with Getzlaf and Perry they have the ageless Teemu Selanne for at least one more season, which career milestones will he reach this season? It’ll be nice to see him win a Cup before he retires but Selanne is one of those players who has been a huge influence on a new generation of Scandinavian hockey.

As one career is near an end, there are new beginnings for guys like Devante Smith-Pelly and Nick Sorensen are just getting started. Smith-Pelly, a second round pick in 2010 looks to make the next step, he projects as a TWF in the future like a Brad Marchand or RJ Umberger. Although I’m not completely sure if he’ll be the goal scorer they are though.

Nick Sorensen is only eighteen years old, but the second round pick in this past draft is a Danish player who reminds me of Mikkel Boedker who really stepped up for Phoenix last season. I think he’ll be in the minors for a year or two and when Selanne hangs up the skates he’ll step in.

Francois Beauchemin is still the main defensive player on the Ducks but Cam Fowler has to emerge to take a bigger role. Fistric is coming from Edmonton and big man Bryan Allen there which could boost their PK that has been struggling thru the preseason.

With Hiller in net, Anaheim shouldn’t take a huge step back in fact they should remain in the top three of the Western Conference. The question is always about the playoffs or they’ll be the next San Jose Sharks.

Edmonton Oilers

Key Player: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall

Up and Comer: Neil Yakupov

This is a bold move from Da Don’s Verdict but I’ve done it before, I think Edmonton breaks through this season. They resigned Nugent-Hopkins to a seven year contract, they have Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky are still there too.

The offense is capable of great things, after all these first round picks it would be a shame to see them falter or not come through for a city that lives and dies for their Oilers. Hall and Nugent Hopkins need to stay healthy for at least 65-70 games this season for a chance at a good playoff spot.

Neil Yakupov was the #1 pick in 2012 from Russia and played a little last season, he’s got some size to go along with some skill, could we see him as a vital role on the PP this season? Maybe on the first line with Eberle, or throw him with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky. The possibilities are endless.

The signing of former Boston Bruin D Andrew Ference has already done wonders, they named him Captain and I believe he gives them the veteran presence defensively they’ve lacked. The Oilers need the Shultzs’ (Nathan and Justin) need to become more prominent on the power play to further their development. While Ference and Smid anchor the PK unit, there’s finally balance here with the veteran leadership there.

The goalie situation is a very sticky one with Devan Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera with the influx of young talent they may be in a situation to make a trade for a veteran starting goaltender. Roberto Luongo, Brian Elliot, heck maybe ask Chicago about Ray Emery if Dubnyk gets off to a shaky start again this season.

This young squad has a group of core veterans who can lead by example and help Nugent-Hopkins and company to help them take the next step and that’s to make the playoffs.

Los Angeles Kings

Key Player: Dustin Brown/ Anze Kopitar/ Jonathan Quick

Up and Comer: Tyler Toffoli

The LA Kings were Stanley Cup Champions in 2011-12 as they defeated the New Jersey Devils in a clean sweep led by Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown and company. Last season was a bit of an improved regular season as they went from an 8 seed to a 5 seed defeating the gritty St. Louis Blues before being taken down by Chicago.

The team is basically the same with Kopitar, Brown, and Stoll etc. Their defensive mentality with Drew Doughty and Voynov is another year older and like Boston in the last couple of years, chemistry is their advantage over other teams.

They may add some fireworks offensively with draft pick Tyler Toffoli from a few years back, once a player of the year candidate in the OHL for his scoring ability, he should add a sniper’s mentality to a group of grinders and playmakers. Maybe on the powerplay is where he’ll make himself known?

When your goalie is Jonathan Quick you’re in more than solid shape after all he was their MVP during their Stanley Cup run and they could do it again, because goaltending is an asset that never loses value. For the former UMass Amherst man, he’ll continue to shine.

San Jose Sharks

Key Player: Joe Thornton/ Patrick Marleau

Up and Comer: Freddie Hamilton

This Sharks team always looks great in the regular season with the shot of Patrick Marleau, the all-around skill of Joe Thornton, the goaltending of Anti Niemi and of course seeing TJ Galliardi emerge at times is always a plus. Logan Couture has clutch abilities to finish so I wonder why they struggle in the playoffs.

This is an aging squad with a lot of new pieces and a lot of talent that has departed in recent years from Setoguchi and Nabokov to trading Douglas Murray to Pittsburgh last season. This team still depends on Thornton, Boyle, Marleau and Pavelski to play at their best.

In terms of up and comers they’re not as deep in the minors as they should be but Freddie Hamilton, a former late pick could be a guy you may see fly in from Worcester this year if injuries occur. In seventy-six games last season in Worcester he had 26 points, not a huge impact but at 21 years old there’s room to grow into his role. The brother of Bruins D Dougie Hamilton he was a contributor for the bronze medal team Canada had in the World Junior Championships.

On defense they have Dan Boyle as I already mentioned who is now 37 years of age. He isn’t getting any younger. If the Sharks struggle early do they trade him and the other aging stars? That’s my thinking entirely, which way do they go when they do.

Anti Niemi is a solid goalie that has spurts like Roberto Luongo that makes you scratch your head. Niemi was the starter for Chicago during their 2010 Stanley Cup run before signing with San Jose. There have been playoff berths and short runs but no true chance at a Stanley Cup.

This may be the year the Sharks may need to start over their franchise, or another year to postpone the question of the future.

Phoenix Coyotes:

Key Players: Shane Doan, Keith Yandle

Up and Comers: Mark Visentin, Oliver Ekman-Larsson

The Phoenix Coyotes have off the ice problems in terms of attendance and relocation, a rumored move to Seattle whether from NHL fans or ownership groups trying to buy the team have been a distraction for them.

Now that it’s old news Shane Doan, Keith Yandle, Antoine Vermette, Martin Hanzal and company to get back to the form they had in 2011-12 when they advanced to the Western Conference Finals. All the talk about trading Yandle is not really gaining any ground or even trading Doan hasn’t either. The point here is no one knows what direction this team is heading.

Defense is their strength for certain, they’ve got Zbynek Michalek, Keith Yandle, newly resigned Oliver Ekman-Larsson, David Runblad, Michael Stone, and on the way is Brandon Gormley. This team has a surplus that they may be able to use to strengthen their offense. For now they’ve got a group of young defensemen that could form a great nucleus in time.

On offense they’ve Danish winger Mikkel Boedker who led them in goals a year ago, to go along with Vermette, Vrbata, Hanzal, and youngster Chris Brown. They were struggling to put shots on net last season, but when they did with Doan and Boedker they were able to keep it close in the playoff hunt.

At goalie they have veteran Mike Smith and youngster Mark Visentin who may end up starting by mid-year if he can firmly cement his place as a pro. Visentin is scheduled to start the season in Portland but monitor him with a keen eye.

Phoenix may surprise many but if they struggle to score again it’s going to be another long season.

Vancouver Canucks:

Key Player: Ryan Kesler, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin

Up and Comer: Hunter Shinkaruk

This Canucks team has had the core of Ryan Kesler and the Sedins’ for a long time now. I still can’t they traded Cory Schneider to New Jersey instead of trying to trade Roberto Luongo but some teams don’t know when to rebuild. They lost Maxim Lapierre too who was a key player in the run they had two years ago for the cup.

They were embarrassed in the playoffs last season getting swept by the San Jose Sharks in the first round and the main reason was the lack of physical presence. Now with John Tortorella and his hugely critical and crazy press conferences, there will shields and fists around the net. This may not fit the game of Sedins, but Torts has made the likes of Marian Gaborik uncomfortable after all. He can do anything.

Whether or not the Sedins fit, it’s in the water that the end of an era is near for the Canucks with this group. Unless Hunter Shinkaruk and Bo Horvat develop soon enough to play under Kesler and the Sedin twins, the team is going to be rebuilding in the next two years. Both are forwards and are highly touted with oozing potential.

The defense is soft well that’s not a surprise but there’s talent there’s Edler, Bieksa, and Edler but none of them impose their will on an opposing team. That was the problem last season at times although they were able to draw penalties and have a surplus of power plays.

Roberto Luongo was rumored on moving last season in favor of Cory Schneider but when you get a 1st rounder you tend to take that. Now Luongo can rejuvenate his career yet again. If Torts can get the guys to buy in Luongo could relish in it and put him in the Vezina talk but I doubt that can happen with the team having no enforcer type presence.

This is another team like the Sharks in limbo. What the true direction is yet to be determined, but if they catch some breaks they may be able to head back into the playoffs.

Calgary Flames

Key Player: Mike Cammalleri

Up and Comer: Sven Baertschi, Sean Monahan, and Patrick Seiloff

Calgary finally traded RW Jarome Iginla last season and got a 1st round pick, now they’re truly rebuilding and Cammalleri is the only true player on the team with value.

The core of their team is the recent draft picks of Sven Baertschi, Sean Monahan, and Patrick Seiloff. All are under the age of 20, so the future of the team is for years down the road. All these guys have potential to be 1st line/2nd line guys in their future.

On defense Ty Brodie is 23, who may be getting a spot on the 1st pairing this season, his development is key to the progress of the team. The rest of the defenseman group will probably be inter-changed; young guys will be in and out like how Edmonton has done over the past few years.

Their goalie situation is filled with a group of unproven guys who may be bridge guys. No more Mikka Kiprusoff who struggled in the last few years anyways.

Calgary Flames attitude for this season should be that they may be down right now but the future is there in stone if they work hard, with three 1st round picks in a good draft is a jumping off point for the next era of Flames hockey.

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