Part six of our 2018-19 season preview will feature the last six teams in the Pacific Division. You can check out Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five of the series here if you haven’t already done so.
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San Jose Sharks
2017-18 Finish: 45-27-10, second round loss to Vegas (4-2)
Noteworthy Gains: None
Biggest Strength: The Sharks have a solid group of forwards led by Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Joe Pavelski, Thomas Hertl and Joe Thornton. They may not have made a huge splash in free agency, but their big acquisition came in the form of a deadline-day deal involving Kane. This group is getting older, but they should get enough offence from their key players to be competitive in the Western Conference again in 2018-19.
Biggest Weakness: Their depth on defense isn’t the greatest. Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun make up the top end of the group, but they’re followed by Brenden Dillon, Dylan DeMelo, Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed. Dillon has seen better days, while the rest of those options on the blueline are unproven. They shouldn’t rule out acquiring another defender before next year’s trade deadline.
Player to Watch: Timo Meier scored 21 goals in his first full NHL season, but the former ninth overall pick could be even better this year. He’s a big body that can skate, shoot and score, and with the rest of the key forwards getting older, he’s part of the next wave of players that will have to carry the torch once Pavelski, Thornton and company are all gone.
Los Angeles Kings
2017-18 Finish: 45-29-8, first round loss to Vegas (4-0)
Noteworthy Gains: Ilya Kovalchuk
Biggest Strength: The Kings are rock-solid when it comes to keeping the puck out of their net. They have a solid goaltender in Jonathan Quick, forwards that are responsible defensively (Anze Kopitar is one of the best two-way players in the game), and a blueline that is more than capable of shutting down the opposition (re-signing Drew Doughty was huge for the future of the team).
Biggest Weakness: GM Rob Blake was able to land Kovalchuk via free agency, but his team is still light when it comes to scoring. Kovalchuk is 35 and he’s been out of the league for five years. How many goals can they count on him to score? Kopitar had a great bounce-back season, but he can’t do it alone. Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter will have to prove that they can still be valuable contributors.
Player to Watch: Adrian Kempe had some very good moments with the Kings last year. He finished the season with 16 goals and 37 points in 81 games. The 21-year-old showed that he has serious upside. Now, it’s up to him to prove that he can get his offensive numbers to climb even higher.
2017-18 Finish: 37-35-10, 11th in the Western Conference
Biggest Strength: For the last few years, the Flames have been known for the depth they possessed on defense. They still have a solid group of defenders, but the talent they’ve accumulated up front can’t be ignored. Adding Lindholm and James Neal to a group that already includes Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk is pretty impressive. Calgary should have no problem scoring goals in 2018-19.
Biggest Weakness: Mike Smith is a huge question mark between the pipes. The 36-year-old is getting up there in age, so it’s normal that people have started doubting his abilities. He played 55 games last season, which is a fair number. But can he do that again? And can he play that many games at a high level. If Smith falters, there’s no veteran backup to pick up the pieces.
Player to Watch: It’ll be interesting to see how being traded affects Lindholm’s confidence. Will a chance of scenery give him the boost he’s been looking for, or will it take him time to adapt to his new surroundings (this is the first time he’s been traded). Regardless, he’s going to be a big part of this team, and he should get every opportunity to improve on his career-high of 45 points.
2017-18 Finish: 36-40-6, 12th in the Western Conference
Biggest Strength: The Oilers have incredible depth down the middle of the ice. On paper, their top three centers are Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. But their lack of talent on the wings may lead to either Draisaitl or Nugent-Hopkins playing on McDavid’s wing. That’s okay, this is still a very talented group. If they’re going to get back to the playoffs, it’ll be on the shoulders of these three players (especially McDavid).
Biggest Weakness: For years, the Oilers have failed to address their need on defense. To make matters even worse, the club has lost Andrej Sekera to an Achilles injury, so they’re even thinner than they imagined. This edition of the Oilers will find ways to score, but can they keep the puck out of the net? Cam Talbot is also a huge question mark, after he had a horrible season last year.
Player to Watch: Tobias Rieder is still relatively young at 25 years old. The speedy winger managed to score 16 goals with Arizona just two seasons ago, and it’s entirely possible that he could earn a regular role on Edmonton’s top two lines. Rieder doesn’t have high-end offensive talent, but he could definitely hit the 20-goal mark if all goes well.
2017-18 Finish: 31-40-11, 14th in the Western Conference
Biggest Strength: The Canucks have some solid young talent on their roster. Players like Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser should be leading the Canucks for the next decade. That may not translate into wins right away, but the two forwards are great building blocks for a team that is a few pieces away from being competitive, again.
Biggest Weakness: Their defense isn’t great, they don’t have many goals in their lineup and their goaltending is inconsistent. That should tell you everything you need to know about this edition of the Canucks. This team has finished near the bottom of the league in each of the last three seasons. Don’t be surprised if that happens again in 2018-19.
Player to Watch: Elias Pettersson was the fifth overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Since being taken by the Canucks, all the 19-year-old did was put up 24 goals and 56 points in 44 games in the Swedish Hockey League. Pettersson should get every opportunity to make the Canucks roster this year. Assuming he sticks for the entire season, he’ll likely be in the race for the Calder Trophy.
2017-18 Finish: 29-41-12, 15th in the Western Conference
Noteworthy Losses: Max Domi
Biggest Strength: The Coyotes have a lot of young talent up front like Clayton Keller, Galchenyuk, Christian Dvorak, Brendan Perlini, Christian Fischer and Dylan Strome, but their real strength is on defense. Arizona will go into the season with a top-four of: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Unlike the forwards, all four of these guys are proven at the NHL level. Ekman-Larsson, who signed an extension with the ‘Yotes this summer, is one of the top defenders in the league.
Biggest Weakness: They still have a lot of question marks all over the roster, but that’s especially true in goal. Antti Raanta ended the season on a positive note last year and they added Darcy Kuemper in a trade with the Kings. Both netminders are unproven starters. One of them will have to emerge as a true number one goalie if the Coyotes are going to go from worst in the West to competing for a playoff spot.
Player to Watch: The Galchenyuk-for-Domi swap was one of the bigger trades of the off-season. Galchenyuk is a proven commodity in the NHL (he has a 30-goal season under his belt), but he hasn’t never been a consistent threat since coming into the NHL. His former team, the Montreal Canadiens, never wanted to stick him at center, but the Coyotes have already committed to him playing down the middle. How much will that open things up for him offensively? We’ll find out soon.