NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout the month of September.
Summer is turning into fall. Teams are back on the ice getting ready for the new season, and the pressure is starting to build for some players who know they'll have to be big-time producers for their teams to improve or contend.
Here's a look at a player from each of the 14 teams in the Western Conference who'll be under pressure to perform as soon as the puck drops:
Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks -- Perry got a huge, long-term contract late last season even though his production has dropped since his 50-goal, 98-point MVP season in 2010-11. The Ducks stole the Pacific Division last season with a fast start; they're not going to sneak up on anyone this season. Perry plays with Ryan Getzlaf, one of the NHL's best centers, and Anaheim needs the wing to return to the point-a-game player he was from 2008-11 to have any chance of repeating.
Karri Ramo, Calgary Flames -- The Flames aren't sure what they've got in Ramo, who was one of the best goaltenders in the Kontinental Hockey League for the past four seasons before signing a two-year contract with Calgary this summer. His numbers in Russia suggest he's improved a lot from the kid who couldn't keep his goals-against average below 3.00 in three tries with the Tampa Bay Lightning. With Miikka Kiprusoff gone, Ramo figures to get first crack at the No. 1 job. The Flames are likely to struggle to win this season. If Ramo can't do the job, it could be a really tough season in Calgary.
Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks -- For all of the Blackhawks' talent and depth, Keith is the one player who's close to indispensable. He devours ice time (24:06 last season), can play in all situations, and is the only defenseman who's a real offensive force on the blue line. Keith's play dropped off in 2010-11, the season after Chicago's previous Stanley Cup victory, and the Blackhawks struggled to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has to play at an elite level for the Blackhawks to compete for the Cup again.
Erik Johnson, Colorado Avalanche -- The Avalanche have a lot of young talent up front, including No. 1 draft pick Nathan McKinnon. The same can't be said about their defense; that's why Johnson, the first player taken in the 2006 NHL Draft, is so important. Johnson has become a decent NHL defenseman but has never lived up to being a No. 1 pick in the draft. The Avalanche need the 25-year-old to take a major step forward and become the kind of defenseman he was projected to be if they have any hopes of qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars -- In two years, Seguin went from a top-six forward on a Stanley Cup-winning team to a player the Boston Bruins wanted to get rid of. Seguin was the No. 2 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft; he's coming to a team that hasn't made the playoffs in five years and desperately needs a No. 1 center to build around. General manager Jim Nill gave up a lot to get Seguin and expects him to be a cornerstone of the rebuilding effort.
Andrew Ference, Edmonton Oilers -- The 34-year-old defenseman is back home after signing a four-year contract following six-plus seasons with the Boston Bruins. The Oilers, who haven't made the playoffs since 2006, didn't bring him in to put up big offensive numbers; they have plenty of young forwards to (hopefully) do that. What they don't have is the kind of leadership they hope Ference can provide. They need him to stay healthy, play 20-plus minutes a night, and show a talented young cast what they need to do to become winners in the NHL.
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings -- After playing at a Hall of Fame level while leading the Kings to the 2012 Stanley Cup, Quick looked merely mortal for much of last season, especially when the opponent was the Chicago Blackhawks. The Kings' system under Darryl Sutter has been effective but it's based upon getting Grade A goaltending every night. That means Quick, who appears to be the early front-runner for the starting U.S. job at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, can't afford many off nights.
Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild -- The Wild got a taste of life without Backstrom last spring when the goaltender was injured and had to sit out the first round of the playoffs; Minnesota was eliminated in five games by Chicago. Backstrom went 24-15-3 with a 2.48 goals-against average and .909 save percentage playing 42 of 48 games last season. The Wild re-signed the 35-year-old this summer and need him to carry the load (at least 60 games) because they have no proven alternative.
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators -- Nashville opted to match the Philadelphia Flyers' 14-year, $110 million offer sheet to its captain last summer and was rewarded by a season that was good but not great: nine goals, 29 points and a minus-2 rating in 48 games. Weber averaged 25:55 of ice time, but it appeared to take a while for him to adapt to life without longtime partner Ryan Suter. His offensive skills are vital on a team that doesn't score a lot, and the Predators need Weber to return to an All-Star level if they hope to get back into the playoffs.
Mike Ribeiro, Phoenix Coyotes -- The Coyotes, who aren't usually big spenders in free agency, opened their wallet to bring in Ribeiro with the expectation that he can be the No. 1 center they've lacked for years. Ribeiro averaged more than a point a game last season, but that was with the Washington Capitals, who also had Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green. He will be expected to help the Coyotes generate more offense while playing within Dave Tippett's more structured, defense-first system. Phoenix needs his scoring and playmaking to get back into the playoffs.
Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks -- San Jose made few moves this summer, opting to stick with the cast that was eliminated by the Los Angeles Kings in the second round of the playoffs. That means the Sharks need another top-level season from their goaltender, who carried an up-and-down team to the playoffs with a 24-12-6 record and won eight of 12 shootouts for the second straight season. San Jose has no proven backup, so the pressure not to stumble figures to be on Niemi from opening night.
Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues -- The Blues have developed a lot of good young talent but have lacked the go-to guy they need to move past being just another playoff team. Tarasenko looked like he might be that player last season when he scored twice in St. Louis' season-opener and added three points in his second game. The forward never matched that kind of production, got injured and was a healthy scratch for all but one playoff game. He said he's learned must be in better shape physically and mentally to deal with the grind of a long season; the Blues need him to play for a whole season the way he did in his first few weeks, when he was named NHL Rookie of the Month for January.
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks -- Luongo is back as the No. 1 goaltender in Vancouver after a season spent backing up Cory Schneider and seeking a trade. Instead, Schneider was sent to the New Jersey Devils in June. It's an odd situation, one that is complicated by the Canucks' move to a tougher division and the fact that their window of opportunity for winning a Stanley Cup with their current group may be closing. There's no alternative this time if Luongo stumbles even a little; he's got to prove he's still a top-level goaltender for the Canucks to remain a Cup contender.
Evander Kane, Winnipeg Jets -- There's no doubting Kane is one of the NHL's most talented young players, but talent is one thing and production is another. The Jets have signed Kane and a lot of their core players to lengthy contracts even though the franchise hasn't made the playoffs since 2007. The Jets need him to blossom into one of the NHL's elite power forwards to justify their long-term investment in him and to get them over the final hump and into the postseason.