Western camps: Kings intact, others up for challenge

Saturday, 01.12.2013 / 10:42 PM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

It's been seven months and two days since the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup. When training camp opens Sunday, the champs will remarkably return intact to the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, Calif.

All 36 players, including the scratches, listed on the Kings' official roster for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final are still with the organization.

Kings general manager Dean Lombardi re-signed everybody who needed to be re-signed, including Jarret Stoll, Dustin Penner and Colin Fraser. He gave a 10-year contract extension to goalie Jonathan Quick, who is healthy after having a back surgery in August.

The only change heading into camp is next to Darryl Sutter on the bench, where former St. Louis Blues coach Davis Payne will now stand as an assistant instead of Jamie Kompon.

The Kings do enter camp with some adversity -- star center Anze Kopitar is nursing a knee injury that could force him to miss the beginning of the regular season. Veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell also is questionable for training camp with a knee injury.

Regardless, the Kings head into training camp well-positioned for a run at duplicating their success in 2012-13.

Who in the Western Conference is up for the challenge?

Here's a training-camp guide for storylines worth keeping an eye on in the Western Conference:

CENTRAL DIVISION

The St. Louis Blues didn't make any radical changes to their roster, either, so they open camp with the same core of players from a 109-point team. The lone newcomer is 2010 first-round pick Vladimir Tarasenko, who has Blues fans on the edge of their seats already and he hasn't even played an NHL game. The hype in St. Louis over Tarasenko is big-time, but he'll have to adjust to coach Ken Hitchcock's system like everyone else.

The Chicago Blackhawks will have Marian Hossa back healthy after losing him to a concussion in Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The Blackhawks still have the same questions in goal, but Joel Quenneville is on record saying he trusts Corey Crawford and Ray Emery to answer the critics this season.

But Quenneville lamented his special teams, saying they must be better for Chicago to live up to expectations. The Blackhawks were 26th on the power play last season and 27th on the penalty kill.

Training camp for the Detroit Red Wings will be eerie without Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom, who retire with a combined 2,590 games and eight Stanley Cup rings. Other notables are back, including Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who is expected to arrive after playing in the KHL All-Star Game on Sunday. Keep an eye on defenseman Brendan Smith and forwards Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist.

Smith could take on an expanded role this season with Lidstrom and Brad Stuart (San Jose Sharks) gone. Brunner and Nyquist could compete for a spot on the line with Datsyuk and Zetterberg as well as a role on the power play.

Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi will be the ones to watch in Nashville Predators camp as the defensemen try to make up for the minutes and production the team got from Ryan Suter, who signed with the Minnesota Wild. Shea Weber remains the cornerstone franchise player, but the question is, how will coach Barry Trotz use his defensemen now that Suter is gone?

John Davidson, the Columbus Blue Jackets' new president of hockey operations, said their strength should be keeping the puck out of the net. If that's the case, then all eyes will be on goaltenders Sergei Bobrovsky and Steve Mason.

NORTHWEST DIVISION

The Roberto Luongo saga will be the dominant storyline for the Vancouver Canucks until general manager Mike Gillis makes a firm decision whether to trade him or keep him. A trade could happen soon, but it's not out of the realm of possibility for Gillis to hang on to Luongo and have him compete with Cory Schneider.

Vancouver's other question -- and it's a big one -- is, who plays second-line center with Ryan Kesler still rehabbing from offseason shoulder and wrist surgeries? It's possible the Canucks use one of their veterans from the bottom-six (Manny Malhotra or Maxim Lapierre), or they could give rookie Jordan Schroeder a look.

Then again, if Gillis finds the trade he likes for Luongo, maybe he gets a second-line center in return.

The Minnesota Wild will garner far more attention nationally than previously with the additions of Suter and Zach Parise. The Wild signed them to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts in July.

Now it'll be up to coach Mike Yeo to determine where to play each of his new superstars and how to use the rest of the roster, including rookie Mikael Granlund, who could be the second-line center behind captain Mikko Koivu.

Twenty-year old Gabriel Landeskog, last season's Calder Trophy winner, will start his first training camp as captain of the Colorado Avalanche. But the big story in Denver is, when will Ryan O'Reilly sign his new contract? The answer is likely soon, and that's important because the forward is major part of the Avalanche offense.

It'll also be interesting to see how PA Parenteau fits in Colorado. It's a good bet you'll find him on center Matt Duchene's line to start the season.

The youthful Edmonton Oilers could be ahead of most teams entering this season when you consider Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and rookie defenseman Justin Schultz were playing together in the American Hockey League. Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Schultz and No. 1 pick Nail Yakupov will be featured in Edmonton's offense.

The questions for new Edmonton coach Ralph Krueger are, where does Sam Gagner fit in, and can Devan Dubnyk beat out Nikolai Khabibulin for the No. 1 job in net?

Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley has a plethora of questions that need answering as he heads into his first camp: How will Jiri Hudler fit in? Can Dennis Wideman give Calgary's defense a jolt of offense? Will Jarome Iginla's contract status (he's in the final year of his contract) be a distraction?

PACIFIC DIVISION

The Los Angeles Kings are the favorites here for all the aforementioned reasons, but who can challenge the champs?

How about the Phoenix Coyotes, who lost to L.A. in last season's Western Conference Finals? Other than the continued ownership issue, there aren't any major storylines at play in the desert.

Shane Doan is back, but last season's leading scorer Ray Whitney signed with the Dallas Stars. Phoenix is hopeful Steve Sullivan can pick up some of that scoring slack and Mikkel Boedker continues to evolve into a formidable threat. The Coyotes also have to deal with not having grinder Raffi Torres for the first eight games of the season due to suspension.

The San Jose Sharks added Brad Stuart to the blue line and Larry Robinson as an assistant coach. Now we'll get to see if they can help the Sharks revamp their penalty kill, which was 29th in the NHL last season at 76.9 percent. If paired together, Stuart's presence could allow Brent Burns to freelance a little bit more in the offensive zone, which could give the Sharks an extra layer of attack that was missing last season.

The Anaheim Ducks will have to buck their recent trend of bad starts. They have been slow out of the gate in each season since winning the Stanley Cup in 2007. Their 6-13-4 start last season cost coach Randy Carlyle his job, but Bruce Boudreau got the Ducks on track and they went 15-12-4 after the All-Star break.

Emerson Etem and Kyle Palmieri could challenge for roster spots, so keep an eye on those two.

The Dallas Stars are revamped up front with Whitney, Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy getting ready for their first training camp with the team. Those three will be interesting to watch (Jagr has been playing in his native Czech Republic), but the big question for the Stars is, will All-Star forward Jamie Benn be in camp?

Benn is an unsigned restricted free agent. He had 63 points last season and has been trending up in each of his first three seasons in Dallas.

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