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Pacific Division up for grabs with five-team race

Canucks, Oilers, Flames, Coyotes, Golden Knights all within one point

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / Staff Writer

With the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game over and the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24 four weeks away, is taking a look at where all 31 teams stand heading into the stretch drive of the regular season. Here is the Pacific Division.


Vancouver Canucks

Record: 27-18-4, 58 points, first place in Pacific

MVP: Elias Pettersson -- The core of second-year center Pettersson, forward Brock Boeser and center Bo Horvat have come of age, with Pettersson leading the Canucks in most offensive categories. He has put up good power-play numbers (20 points; seven goals, 13 assists) and is getting close to his first 30-goal season in the NHL.

Unsung hero: J.T. Miller -- The forward has found his niche in Vancouver after being traded by the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Miller has jelled with Pettersson and Boeser and is on the way to setting NHL career highs in his eighth season with 46 points (17 goals, 29 assists) in 49 games.

Player to watch: Quinn Hughes -- The defenseman is a Calder Trophy contender for rookie of the year, competing with Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar and injured Buffalo Sabres forward Victor Olofsson for most points by a rookie. The 20-year-old, with 34 points (five goals, 29 assists) in 48 games, could break Canucks records for points (63 by Doug Lister in 1986-87) and assists (55 by Dennis Kearns in 1976-77) in a season by a defenseman.

Biggest need -- The return of forward Brandon Sutter from an upper-body injury adds grit and depth. Vancouver is waiting for forward Micheal Ferland, limited to 14 games because of a concussion and upper-body injury, to come back and be a physical presence on the second or third line. Ferland and forward Josh Leivo, out since Dec. 19 with a fractured kneecap, will lengthen the Canucks' depth up front.

Second-half prognosis -- Chances look good for Vancouver to make its first Stanley Cup Playoff appearance since 2014-15, but its youth will be tested in what will remain a tight division and conference race.

Video: ATL@PAC: Pettersson rips home breakaway goal


Edmonton Oilers

Record: 26-18-5, 57 points, second place in Pacific

MVP: Connor McDavid -- It has been another strong season for the 2016-17 Hart Trophy winner, who also was voted a finalist for NHL MVP last season. The center, along with forward Leon Draisaitl, are carrying the Oilers to what could be their first playoff berth since 2016-17, when they advanced to Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round. McDavid has helped keep Edmonton in contention after a 14-16-4 stretch followed a 7-1-1 start. The Oilers entered their break 5-1-0 in six games, when McDavid and Draisaitl led them with 12 points each.

Unsung hero: Oscar Klefbom -- The defenseman leads Edmonton with 25:41 of ice time per game and plays big minutes in all situations. He has played all 49 games this season after missing 21 in 2018-19 with a broken bone in his left hand. The Oilers were 17-12-2 when Klefbom was injured last season and 6-12-3 in his absence, a stretch that may have cost them the postseason.

Player to watch: Kailer Yamamoto -- The forward is making the most of his second opportunity in the NHL with six points (three goals, three assists) in eight games since his recall from Bakersfield of the American Hockey League on Dec. 29. He has earned top-six minutes playing with Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and has provided energy coming off wrist surgery May 9, 2019. 

Biggest need -- Secondary scoring. Nugent-Hopkins is the only player other than McDavid or Draisaitl with at least 33 points. Yamamoto could be part of the solution, but Edmonton would like to add a top-six forward. Goaltending has been hot and cold, and the Oilers will have to decide if either Mike Smith or Mikko Koskinen is the answer down the stretch.

Second-half prognosis -- How Edmonton takes advantage of its next seven games (five at home and two against the Calgary Flames) before playing three in four nights on the East Coast may determine whether they're ready to take the next step. If the Oilers are in contention on March 20, they could seal a berth with six of their final seven games at home.

Video: EDM@TOR: McDavid converts jaw-dropping goal


Calgary Flames

Record: 26-19-5, 57 points, third place in Pacific

MVP: Matthew Tkachuk -- The forward was selected to his first Honda NHL All-Star Game in his fourth NHL season, validation of how he's evolving at 22 years old. He has 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) in 49 games, tied with forward Johnny Gaudreau for the Flames lead.

Unsung hero: Elias Lindholm -- Tkachuk and Gaudreau gain the most headlines in Calgary, but it's Lindholm who has most often delivered in the clutch. The center has scored six game-winning goals, one more than he had last season, and leads the Flames with seven power-play goals and 13 power-play points.

Player to watch: Johnny Gaudreau -- Any playoff push Calgary makes is contingent upon the forward finding the form that made him a two-time 30-goal scorer in the NHL. Gaudreau has scored 13 goals and had no points in three games entering the break after having eight (three goals, five assists) in his previous six.

Biggest need -- The Flames hope to add a right-hand shot at forward for their top six, according to TSN. That could allow them to move Andrew Mangiapane to the bottom six and figure out whether to play Lindholm at center or right wing.

Second-half prognosis -- The Flames play their next 11 games against Western Conference opponents and eight against the Pacific Division, including a home-and-home against the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 29 and Feb. 1. That stretch could determine whether Calgary makes a serious run or becomes a seller before the NHL Trade Deadline.

Video: PAC@CEN: Tkachuk wires home wrist shot from circle


Arizona Coyotes

Record: 26-20-5, 57 points, fourth place in Pacific

MVP: Darcy Kuemper -- The goalie hasn't played since Dec. 19 because of a lower-body injury but is still recognized as a leading contender for the Vezina Trophy awarded to the best in the NHL at the position. Kuemper leads the conference with a 2.17 goals-against average and .929 save percentage (minimum 20 games).

Unsung hero: Conor Garland -- Arizona's fifth-round pick (No. 123) in the 2015 NHL Draft paid his dues playing four seasons for Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and three for Tucson of the AHL before his NHL debut Dec. 18, 2018. The forward has risen from the bottom six to the top line with Taylor Hall and Christian Dvorak, and his 16 goals lead the Coyotes.

Player to watch: Taylor Hall -- It's a matter of time before Hall is completely acclimated playing for the Coyotes, who acquired the forward in a trade with the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 16 for three prospects and two draft picks. Hall has incentive to return to the playoffs coming off two tough seasons in New Jersey after winning the Hart Trophy voted as most valuable player in the NHL in 2017-18. He carried the Devils to the playoffs with 57 points (27 goals, 30 assists) in the final 40 games that season. The spotlight will be on him to do it again in Arizona.

Biggest need -- The return of defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson after missing 43 games with a cracked left fibula will help the back end, where the Coyotes would like to add size, in addition to a true No. 1 center. Though their strength is in goal with Kuemper and Antti Raanta, they've had to count on Adin Hill and Ivan Prosvetov to contribute, given Kuemper's extended absence and Raanta often sidelined with injuries.

Second-half prognosis -- Arizona is waiting for Kuemper to return and hopefully bolster its chances at a playoff berth for the first time since 2011-12. A wide-open division, where five teams are separated by one point, is there for the taking.

Video: SJS@ARI: Hall scores on crafty tip-in down low


Vegas Golden Knights

Record: 25-20-7, 57 points, fifth place in Pacific

MVP: Max Pacioretty -- The forward leads the Golden Knights in goals (21) and points (47) and had 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) during a 15-6-3 run from Nov. 17 to Jan. 4.

Unsung hero: Jonathan Marchessault -- With 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) in 47 games, the forward has a chance to score 30 goals for the first time since 2016-17 and is second on Vegas with 164 shots; if he can raise his 9.8 percent shooting percentage, he could be a difference-maker down the stretch.

Player to watch: Paul Stastny -- The center will have to generate more offense (25 points; 14 goals, 11 assists in 52 games) with center William Karlsson week to week with an upper-body injury.

Biggest need -- Karlsson's status may put the Golden Knights in the hunt for a scoring forward. They also allowed 25 goals during a 1-5-1 stretch that took them into the break, so a defenseman to take pressure off Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore is at the top of the list.

Second-half prognosis -- The Golden Knights fired coach Gerard Gallant on Jan. 15 even though they've been at or near the top of the division. They've allowed an NHL-high 56 first-period goals, so it's imperative for new coach Peter DeBoer to get them to start on time. Vegas is 1-2-1 on what could be a season-defining eight-game road stretch that resumes at the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 31 and ends at the Florida Panthers on Feb. 6.

Video: ATL@PAC: Pacioretty beats Andersen to trim deficit


San Jose Sharks

Record: 21-25-4, 46 points, sixth place in Pacific

MVP: Logan Couture -- The Sharks hope their captain returns before the six-week timeline of a broken ankle sustained Jan. 7. The two-way center's 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 45 games are best among San Jose forwards and tied with defenseman Erik Karlsson (five goals, 31 assists in 49 games) for the Sharks lead. He often faces the opponent's top line and leads San Jose forwards in average time on ice on the power play (2:49) and skates 1:44 per game killing penalties.

Unsung hero: Aaron Dell -- The 30-year-old goalie and potential unrestricted free agent took away the starter's role from Martin Jones and is 5-5-1 with a 2.56 GAA and .921 save percentage since Bob Boughner replaced DeBoer as coach Dec. 11. Dell has never started more than 22 games in one season (2017-18) but will pass that with San Jose likely to rely on him for a late playoff push.

Player to watch: Timo Meier -- The forward has scored 16 goals in 50 games after an NHL career-high 30 in 78 games last season. Since Meier was benched for the entire third period against Vegas on Dec. 22, his nine points (five goals, four assists) are tied with forward Evander Kane for the Sharks lead. They need more to stay in contention as long as Couture is sidelined.

Biggest need -- Getting younger sooner than later. Seven players are at least 30 years old. That includes Dell and Jones, each 30, and forward Patrick Marleau and center Joe Thornton, each 40. San Jose could look to acquire a goalie or top-six forward if it decides it's a contender.

Second-half prognosis -- The Sharks are 6-9-2 since DeBoer was fired and might be in transition after 14 playoff appearances in 15 seasons that included the Stanley Cup Final in 2016, a six-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Five of the Sharks' next six games are against conference opponents and they hope the veterans have one last push in them.

Video: SJS@PIT: Couture beats Jarry on the odd-man rush


Anaheim Ducks

Record: 19-24-5, 43 points, seventh place in Pacific

MVP: Jakob Silfverberg -- He is justifying the five-year contract he signed March 2, 2019. The Ducks' top defensive forward, Silfverberg is on pace for NHL career highs in goals and points during his sixth season; he has 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists) in 44 games.

Unsung hero: Adam Henrique -- The forward has been streaky and his production waned before the NHL All-Star break, but he is a versatile secondary scorer playing with center Ryan Getzlaf and likely will surpass the 18 goals he scored last season.

Player to watch: Ondrej Kase -- The 24-year-old forward has seen regular time on the power play after not being on either the man-advantage or penalty kill earlier in the season. He also went 17 games (Nov. 27-Jan. 5) without scoring a goal and his numbers (18 points; five goals, 13 assists) will have to improve.

Biggest need -- The Ducks are sagging on special teams. Their power play is 28th (15.0 percent) and the penalty kill has fallen to 77.8 percent (24th) after it was below 80 percent (79.1) last season for the first time since 2009-10. Anaheim would like to improve its 30th-ranked offense (2.46 goals per game), but anything it does before the trade deadline likely will be with an eye toward the future.

Second-half prognosis -- The Ducks haven't progressed the way they had hoped after naming Dallas Eakins coach June 17. Their era of prosperity ended last season after six consecutive Stanley Cup Playoff appearances, including two trips to the Western Conference Final. They're rebuilding and should have a good chance at winning the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery and the No. 1 pick.

Video: ANA@ARI: Silfverberg nets return pass from Lundestrom


Los Angeles Kings

Record: 18-27-5, 41 points, eighth place in Pacific

MVP: Anze Kopitar -- The center's 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists) lead the Kings, whose next-best scorers (forwards Tyler Toffoli and Alex Iafallo and defenseman Drew Doughty) each have 27. Kopitar played in his fifth NHL All-Star Game and passed Wayne Gretzky for fourth in Los Angeles history with his 919th point Dec. 15.

Unsung hero: Alex Iafallo -- The forward has found his niche in his third season with the Kings and first after signing a two-year contract July 10. The undrafted free agent has played on the top line and is on pace for NHL career highs in goals, points and assists.

Player to watch: Adrian Kempe -- Los Angeles is still waiting for the No. 29 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft to prove himself as a scoring forward. The Kings need more than 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in 49 games for him to justify the three-year, $6 million contract he signed as a restricted free agent Sept. 4.

Biggest need -- Help on special teams. Los Angeles is near the bottom of the NHL on the power play (16.2 percent, 26th) and penalty kill (73.4 percent, 30th).

Second-half prognosis -- Toffoli and defenseman Alec Martinez are two veterans the Kings could try to move before the trade deadline with the goal of getting younger and building around Iafallo, Kempe, center Blake Lizotte and defenseman Sean Walker. Los Angeles is probably bound for its second consecutive non-playoff season and fourth in six seasons, but better days are ahead.

Video: LAK@FLA: Kopitar pushes home rebound for PPG

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