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Western Conference training camp storylines

NHL.com breaks down biggest questions for all 15 teams heading into preseason

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

The Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks, the two teams heading to the 2017 NHL China Games later this month, got a head start on the rest of the League on Wednesday when they had their first official on-ice practices of training camp.

The other 29 teams might be a day or two behind the Kings and Canucks, but there's no doubt that we're off and running in the 2017-18 season.

On Wednesday, we previewed the biggest storyline to watch going into training camp for the 16 teams in the Eastern Conference. Here is the same breakdown for the 15 teams in the Western Conference, listed alphabetically by division.

 
CENTRAL DIVISION

 

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
First practice: Friday; United Center
First preseason game: Sept. 19 at Columbus Blue Jackets 

In theory, the Blackhawks traded right wing Patrick Kane's linemate (Artemi Panarin) to the Columbus Blue Jackets to get center Jonathan Toews a new linemate (Brandon Saad) because Marian Hossa (skin disorder) won't play this season. Without Panarin, the Blackhawks must figure out who meshes best with Kane and center Artem Anisimov. It could be Patrick Sharp, who returned to Chicago on a one-year contract.

Video: 31 in 31: Chicago Blackhawks 2017-18 season preview

 

COLORADO AVALANCHE
First practice: Friday; South Suburban Family Sports Center, Centennial, Colo.
First preseason game: Sept. 19 vs. Vegas Golden Knights

Forward Matt Duchene showed up for training camp Thursday. That's the good news. A holdout as he waits for a trade would not benefit anybody. Duchene wouldn't be working out with an NHL team and the Avalanche would likely lose leverage with a potential trading partner. However, it's not like the story about his future and a potential trade will go away just because he's doing what he is contractually obligated to do. Duchene's status and the question about whether he will be traded and when is still the key storyline in the Avalanche's training camp. 

 

DALLAS STARS
First practice: Friday; H-E-B Center, Cedar Park, Texas
First preseason game: Sept. 19 vs. St. Louis Blues

Ken Hitchcock's second stint as Stars coach begins with questions about the defense. He's expected to see how newcomer Marc Methot meshes with John Klingberg; the theory is that Methot, acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights after being selected from the Ottawa Senators in the NHL Expansion Draft, worked well with Erik Karlsson during their time together and should be able to do the same with Klingberg, who plays a style similar to Karlsson. Rookie Julius Honka also will be given a chance to impress Hitchcock and potentially earn significant playing time.

Video: Captain Jamie Benn discusses Stars busy offseason

 

MINNESOTA WILD
First practice: Friday; Xcel Energy Center
First preseason game: Sept. 18 at Winnipeg Jets

The progress of rookie center Joel Eriksson Ek will be monitored closely. The Wild would like him to be their third-line center behind Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu. Eriksson Ek had seven points (three goals, four assists) in 15 games for Minnesota last season. He started the season with the Wild, returned to Sweden to play professionally and in the IIHF World Junior Championship, and then returned to Minnesota for the stretch run and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 

NASHVILLE PREDATORS
First practice: Saturday; Centennial Sportsplex, Nashville
First preseason game: Sept. 19 vs. Florida Panthers

The Predators have an opening in their top four on defense because Ryan Ellis is recovering from knee surgery and won't be able to play until late December at the earliest. Alexei Emelin is the leading candidate to slide into the top four, which also includes Roman Josi, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm. Emelin could be a straight replacement for Ellis and move into his spot alongside Josi. If that doesn't work, coach Peter Laviolette could play Matt Irwin with Josi. He used that pair sparingly last season.

Video: 31 in 31: Nashville Predators 2017-18 season preview

 

ST. LOUIS BLUES
First practice: Friday; IceZone at St. Louis Outlet Mall, St. Louis
First preseason game: Sept. 19 at Stars

The Blues will start training camp with Robby Fabbri at center. It's an experiment that bears watching because Fabbri played wing in his first two NHL seasons; he's also coming off major knee surgery and hasn't played since Feb. 4. If Fabbri can adequately adapt to the position, he likely would slide in as the third center behind Paul Stastny and Brayden Schenn. That's especially important because the Blues will be without center Patrik Berglund, who is expected to miss at least the first two months of the season because of shoulder surgery.

 

WINNIPEG JETS
First practice: Saturday; Bell MTS Iceplex, Winnipeg 
First preseason game: Sept. 18 vs. Wild

The health of defenseman Tyler Myers will be a major topic early in training camp. Myers missed 71 games last season with recurring hip and groin injuries. Coach Paul Maurice said Monday that Myers is healthy and cleared for camp but that the Jets will be careful with him because he spent the summer working himself back to 100 percent and hasn't gone full out yet. Maurice said he wants to get Myers into an early preseason game to get a better indication of his fitness and see how his body is holding up.

Video: 31 in 31: Winnipeg Jets 2017-18 season preview

 

PACIFIC DIVISION

 

ANAHEIM DUCKS
First practice: Friday; Anaheim Ice, Anaheim
First preseason game: Sept. 19 at San Jose Sharks

Defenseman Hampus Lindholm is questionable for the start of the season. Another defenseman, Sami Vatanen, could miss the first half of the season. Each had shoulder surgery in May. That means the Ducks could be missing one-third of what is considered one of the best groups of defensemen in the NHL. The Ducks still have depth with Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Brandon Montour and Kevin Bieksa returning, and they added veteran Francois Beauchemin on a one-year contract. Beauchemin, in his third stint with the Ducks, should help bridge the gap.

 

ARIZONA COYOTES
First practice: Friday; Gila River Arena
First preseason game: Sept. 18 vs. Los Angeles Kings

Coach Rick Tocchet will be running his first training camp with the Coyotes, and he has a lot of young players to monitor. Most notably, the progress of rookie forwards Clayton Keller, Dylan Strome and Christian Fischer will be worth watching. Keller, Strome and Fischer figure to be relied on as key pieces for the Coyotes this season. They are expected to be part of Arizona's core group for years to come.

Video: The guys preview the Coyotes' upcoming season

 

CALGARY FLAMES
First practice: Friday; Scotiabank Saddledome
First preseason game: Sept. 18 vs. Edmonton Oilers (split squad)

Defenseman Travis Hamonic was one of two major offseason additions (goalie Mike Smith was the other). Coach Glen Gulutzan has to figure out the best partner for Hamonic without disrupting the rest of the defense too much. Ideally, Gulutzan will find that he can keep Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton as the top pair and play Hamonic with TJ Brodie on the second pair. However, two years ago, the Flames thought it would be a cinch to pair Hamilton, then a newcomer, with Giordano. That took more than a full season to work out.

 

EDMONTON OILERS
First practice: Friday; Rogers Place
First preseason game: Sept. 18 vs. Flames (split squad)

The biggest question is who will play on Connor McDavid's right wing. Coach Todd McLellan likely will experiment by putting Ryan Strome, acquired from the New York Islanders in a trade for Jordan Eberle, with McDavid because he already knows using Leon Draisaitl in that spot is a solid option. McLellan might want to have Draisaitl at center on his own line to create a more balanced attack, similar to the way the Pittsburgh Penguins play Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on separate lines.

Video: Previewing the upcoming season for the Oilers

 

LOS ANGELES KINGS
First practice: Opened Wednesday; Toyota Sports Center, El Segundo, Calif.
First preseason game: Saturday vs. Vancouver Canucks

John Stevens takes over as coach for Darryl Sutter, who led the Kings to Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014 but was known for his hard-driving, no-nonsense approach. It will be fascinating to see how the Kings adjust under Stevens, who is known for being a bit lighter with the players than Sutter. The style of play (will it be more open and offensive?) and attitude (will it be refreshed?) will be monitored throughout the preseason, which is unique because they play twice against the Vancouver Canucks in China (Sept. 21 and 23) in the 2017 NHL China Games presented by O.R.G. Packaging.

 

SAN JOSE SHARKS
First practice: Friday; Solar4America Ice, San Jose
First preseason game: Sept. 19 vs. Ducks

Patrick Marleau, their all-time leader in goals (508) and points (1,082), signed a three-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 2, leaving an opening in the top-six forward group. The Sharks must replace Marleau's 27 goals, including 16 on the power play, from last season. Coach Peter DeBoer will be working throughout training camp to find the right line combinations, with the understanding that the closest thing to a lock is Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski being on the same line.

Video: 31 in 31: San Jose Sharks 2017-18 season preview

 

VANCOUVER CANUCKS
First practice: Opened Wednesday; Rogers Arena
First preseason game: Saturday at Kings

The Canucks, like their traveling partner to the China Games, have a new coach; Travis Green is being counted on to bring a fresh perspective and positive attitude to a team that finished sixth in the division in back-to-back seasons. Green's tactics, approach and, most importantly, his decision-making will be on display. Who will he put with Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin (prime candidates include Loui Eriksson, Thomas Vanek and rookie Brock Boeser)? Who will be the No. 3 center behind Henrik Sedin and Bo Horvat, Sam Gagner or Brandon Sutter? Who is going to emerge as the starting goalie, Jacob Markstrom or Anders Nilsson?

 

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
First practice: Friday; City National Arena, Las Vegas
First preseason game: Sept. 17 at Canucks

Everything is new for the NHL's 31st team, but the biggest thing to keep an eye on is the defense. The Golden Knights have 11 defensemen on NHL contracts, including 10 on one-way contracts. The only one who can be sent to the minors without having to clear waivers is Shea Theodore, who has the potential to play his way into becoming a No. 1 defenseman. General manager George McPhee doesn't want to have to put any of his defensemen on waivers because that opens the possibility of losing a useful player for nothing.

Video: How can Vegas do in their first season?

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