The NHL is finally back and it’s time to preview the Pacific Division! After you’re done here, check out our Central Division Preview.
The Ducks won’t be great this season, but we could certainly see some strides in the right direction. After lengthy negotiations, they were able to sign Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale to three-year deals. The team just doesn’t have the skill on the roster to compete right now, but another high draft pick may not be a bad thing in the long run. Zegras, Drysdale, Troy Terry, Leo Carlsson, Mason McTavish, and Olen Zellweger do make up a fairly exciting core of young players just beginning their careers in the NHL. Don’t expect to see the Ducks challenging for a playoff spot quite yet in the competitive Pacific division, but do keep an eye on those budding stars in Anaheim.
After a disastrous 2022/23 season, the Flames will be looking to bounce back strong in the upcoming campaign. Despite losing Tyler Toffoli, Calgary’s roster is still a strong one that can certainly succeed if new head coach Ryan Huska can get everyone to buy in. From top to bottom, not a lot of teams have a more solid blueline in the NHL. Outside of the defence, veterans like Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and Jacob Markstrom should all be better than they were last season, and if they’re a lot better, the Flames should be back in the playoffs. The Pacific Division is a gauntlet right now, but I expect the Flames to be right in the middle of things all year, especially if they can resign Elias Lindholm.
When you’ve got the best 1-2 punch in the league, the expectation is always the same. There’s no reason to think that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl won’t be amazing again this year, but the Oilers will need everyone else to step up if they really want to go all the way. Defence and goaltending have been this team’s main issues in the McDavid era, but they often haven’t been highlighted until the playoffs roll around. If Leon Draisaitl scores four goals in a playoff game and the team still loses, the problem is clearly not up front. Edmonton should be in contention to win the Pacific all year, but the season’s success will most likely come down to a second-round playoff matchup with Vegas or Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Kings
Despite losing to Edmonton in the first round of the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, the Los Angeles Kings continued to get better this summer and should be a real threat in the Pacific this year. With the addition of Pierre-Luc Dubois, L.A. has some of the best depth at centre in the league. They do have some questions in the crease with Pheonix Copley and Cam Talbot, but if that tandem can just be average this season, the Kings will be back in the playoffs once again. They’re structurally solid, they’re tough to play against, and the veterans on the roster know how to win games. Captain Anze Kopitar may be getting up there in age, but his 74 points last season showed that there’s still much more left in the tank.
The Kraken should be a solid team again this year, but in such a competitive division, it’s very tough to predict where they’ll end up at the end of the season. Like last year, the team will come at opponents in waves with their depth. They may not have superstars, but there’s not a lot of teams that bring three equal forward lines like the Kraken do. Seattle has seven forwards making between $4.5m and $5.5m, and it’s pretty clear that they’re all deserving of that money at the very least. Their defence is solid as well, and if Filip Grubauer has a better year, this team really won’t have any holes. A return to the postseason is no guarantee, but last year was not a fluke for Seattle.
San Jose Sharks
It’s hard to be optimistic about the upcoming season for the Sharks. Without Erik Karlsson, the team’s two best players by a long shot are Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture. At forward, San Jose did add some new pieces (Mike Hoffman, Anthony Duclair, Filip Zadina, Mikael Granlund), but I don’t expect any of them to do anything too spectacular in their new spot. Things look even worse on the blueline and in net, as the reigns will be handed to inexperienced players who are either still quite young or usually in and out of an NHL team’s rotation. If Kaapo Kahkonen or Mackenize Blackwood don’t stand on their heads, this team will lose a lot of games and likely end up with another top-5 pick to go alongside Will Smith.
Like their neighbors to the South, Vancouver could be a very solid team that gets overlooked because of the division they’re in. The team has a lot of potential with a forward core of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, Andrei Kuzmenko and Brock Boeser, but they’ll need to do a much better job of keeping the puck out of their own net this year. In the offseason, the team was able to get some defensive help in Carson Soucy and Ian Cole, but only time will tell if they, along with a healthy Filip Hronek, will be enough to make a distinguishable difference. The bounce back of Thatcher Demko will also be very important for this team. When Demko’s on, he can win games for Vancouver, and he’ll need to do that this year in the competitive Pacific.
Vegas Golden Knights
Barring a complete Stanley Cup hangover that snowballs into something very unexpected, this Vegas team will be a top threat in the West once again. Minus Reilly Smith, the team from June is basically the same team that will be lacing them up next week to start the season. Vegas is extremely strong at centre, but they’re deep everywhere up front and on the blueline as well. Last year, they found the winning formula and I don’t expect much to change this season. They’ll have to beat a lot of good teams, but the Golden Knights are still the favorites to come out of the Pacific in the postseason.
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