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Western Conference Preview

2020-21 NHL Season Preview: Part 5

by Corey Abbott
Updated On: December 12, 2020, 1:40 pm ET

With the NHL offseason calmed and team rosters mostly set, we’ve started looking at where teams stand going into the upcoming season. We have already previewed the Eastern Conference, which you can read in Part OnePart Two, and Part Three of the series. Part Four started the Western Conference in the Pacific Division and we will continue there this week, while also beginning the Central Division. 

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Anaheim Ducks 

2019-20 Finish: 29-33-9 record, sixth in Pacific Division

Noteworthy Gains: Kevin Shattenkirk, Derek Grant 

Noteworthy Losses: Ryan Miller, Erik Gudbranson, Michael Del Zotto

Strengths: It was a difficult season for Anaheim, but the play of the Adam Henrique-Jakob Silfverberg-Rickard Rakell combination was a bright spot. Henrique and Silfverberg were the team’s only 20-goal scorers, with 26 and 21 markers, respectively. Rakell ranked third on the team with 15 goals. John Gibson is coming off a down year between the pipes, but he has the ability to steal games and the rebuilding Ducks could get a better performance from him in 2020-21. 

Weaknesses: Anaheim struggled offensively and defensively last season. The team ranked 29th in the league in goals for per game played (2.56) and tied for 25th in goals against per game played (3.17). The Ducks were leaky in their own end, permitting the fourth-most scoring chances against (1,606) at 5-on-5 and the fifth-most high-danger scoring chances against (478) during 5-on-5 situations. Anaheim was also 30th in power-play percentage (14.7%) and scored the fewest goals with the man advantage (27) in the league. 

Player to Watch: Trevor Zegras is the most intriguing prospect for the Ducks and he could land a spot with the big club going into the 2020-21 season. The team desperately needs offense and the playmaking skills of Zegras, who was the No. 9 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, could supply some depth scoring. He signed with the Ducks after he earned 11 goals and 36 points in 33 matches with Boston University during his freshman season. 

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Los Angeles Kings 

2019-20 Finish: 29-35-6 record, seventh in Pacific Division 

Noteworthy Gains: Olli Maatta, Quinton Byfield

Noteworthy Losses: Trevor Lewis, Ben Hutton

Strengths: Anze Kopitar continues to be a great source of offense for the Kings despite not having much of a supporting cast. He led the team with 21 goals and 62 points in 70 games last season. He will be responsible for mentoring the team’s next crop of centers, which features 2020 second-overall pick Quinton Byfield and 2017 11th-overall selection Gabriel Vilardi. Surprisingly, the Kings finished 14th in the league (2.99) in goals against per game played. Jonathan Quick managed to improve somewhat from his disappointing 2018-19 performance and enjoyed some strong play before the season shutdown.

Weaknesses: With the exception of Kopitar, the Kings were brutal offensively in 2019-20. Linemates Alex Iafallo and Dustin Brown were the team’s next-best producers with 43 and 35 points, respectively. Los Angeles ranked 30th in the NHL in goals for per game played (2.53) and placed 26th in power-play efficiency (17.1%). The team also finished tied for 26th in save percentage (.899).

Player to Watch: There’s a great deal to like about Byfield, who is slated to join the Kings after the World Junior Championship, even though the Kings lack depth on the wings. He has the size and the skill to be successful at the NHL level and could provide the team with some much-needed secondary scoring. Vilardi deserves an honorable mention, as he is also in the running to be Los Angeles’ second-line center going into the year. He had three goals and seven points in 10 outings with the Kings last season.

San Jose Sharks 

2019-20 Finish: 29-36-5 record, eighth in Pacific Division 

Noteworthy Gains: Devan Dubnyk, Ryan Donato, Matt Nieto

Noteworthy Losses: Joe Thornton, Aaron Dell, Melker Karlsson

Strengths: The Sharks finished last in the Western Conference in points percentage (.450) last season, but could improve in 2020-21 with a healthier lineup. Valuable skaters Erik Karlsson, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl missed large chunks of the year due to injuries. San Jose has a strong collection of scorers when Timo Meier, Evander Kane, Brent Burns and Kevin Labanc are included into the equation. Ryan Donato and Noah Gregor have offensive upside as well. Additionally, the Sharks were first in the league in penalty kill efficiency (85.7%) during the 2019-20 campaign.

Weaknesses: Goaltending was a major issue for the Sharks in 2019-20. San Jose was 27th in the league in goals against per game played (3.21) and 30th in save percentage (.895). Martin Jones struggled in the crease for a second straight year and lost starts to Aaron Dell, who signed with Toronto in the offseason. The Sharks acquired Devan Dubnyk from Minnesota to compete for starts with Jones. Dubnyk is also coming off a troubling season, but he could represent a significant upgrade if he can bounce back. San Jose tied for 27th in goals for per game (2.57), but that could improve with some key players back in the fold. 

Player to Watch: Several players on San Jose will be interesting to watch in 2020-21 after the team’s dramatic shift in the wrong direction last year. Dubnyk and Donato have plenty of under-the-radar potential, while Karlsson, who is back to 100% health, will be interesting to watch. Labanc gets the nod in this spot for me after he produced just 14 goals and 33 points over 70 games. He had 17 markers and 56 points in 82 contests the year before. Labanc received a four-year contract in the offseason and the team sees him as a 60-point player. The onus will be on him to prove the team’s faith in him isn’t misplaced. 

St. Louis Blues 

2019-20 Finish: 42-19-10 record, first round loss to Vancouver (4-2) 

Noteworthy Gains: Torey Krug, Kyle Clifford

Noteworthy Losses: Alex Pietrangelo, Jake Allen

Strengths: The Blues have plenty of depth up and down the lineup. The team lost Alex Pietrangelo to Vegas via free agency, but still have a deep defense corps. The addition of Torey Krug also helps in that regard. Vladimir Tarasenko’s status for the 2020-21 season is a bit of a question mark following another shoulder procedure, but St. Louis didn’t miss a beat without him for most of the 2019-20 campaign. The team had the second best points percentage (.662) in the league and ranked first in the Western Conference. The Blues were also fifth in the NHL in goals against per game (2.68) last season. St. Louis had the third-best power-play percentage (24.3%) and tied Tampa Bay for the fifth-most goals (49) on the man advantage. 

Weaknesses: St. Louis doesn’t have many holes on paper, but the team struggled during the NHL Return to Play. After a winless round robin, the Blues lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games to the Canucks. The free-agent departure of Pietrangelo was another big loss and it will be interesting to see how the team reacts without their former captain. Colton Parayko is expected to take on a larger role and Krug could replace Pietrangelo’s offense from the back end, especially on the power play.

Player to Watch: Jordan Binnington played well during the regular season. but he struggled mightily in the postseason. He went 0-5-0 with a 4.72 goals-against average and .851 save percentage in five games played. Binnington helped backstop the Blues to a Stanley Cup championship in 2019 and he should be able to get back on track in 2020-21. 

Colorado Avalanche 

2019-20 Finish: 42-20-8 record, second round loss to Dallas (4-3)

Noteworthy Gains: Brandon Saad, Devon Toews

Noteworthy Losses: Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Zadorov

Strengths: The Avalanche have a deep and talented roster led by Nathan MacKinnon, who placed fifth in the NHL with 93 points in 69 contests last season. The team also has Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky, which helped the club finish fourth in the league in goals for per game played (3.37). Brandon Saad should be able to complement that group nicely after he was acquired from Chicago during the offseason. Colorado also has one of the deeper defense corps in the league with Cale Makar, Ryan Graves and Samuel Girard flourishing in larger roles. The arrival of Devon Toews, who was obtained from the New York Islanders, adds another two-way talent to the blueline. The Avalanche ranked sixth overall in goals against per game played (2.71) and tied for fourth with three other teams in save percentage (.913). 

Weaknesses: Even though the Avalanche had plenty of success offensively, the team ranked 12th overall in scoring chances for during 5-on-5 situations (1,467) and 19th in high-danger scoring chances for at 5-on-5 (428). Goaltenders Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz had decent numbers during the regular season, but it was believed the Avalanche would look for an upgrade in goal during the offseason. However, that didn’t happen. As a result, Grubauer will have to be more consistent and stay healthier or he could face more competition from Francouz, who had better statistics in 2019-20. 

Player to Watch: Saad has scored 20 or more goals in five of the last six seasons. He has some sleeper potential in 2020-21 as a member of the Avalanche, as he will probably gain exposure to Kadri or MacKinnon at even strength.

Corey Abbott

Corey Abbott is an Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @CoreAbbott.