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Who's on the hot seat in the Western Conference

by John Kreiser / NHL.com

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which begins Wednesday, Oct. 7.

With the start of another NHL season just a couple of days away, the pressure is already starting to build for some players who know they'll have to be big-time producers for their teams to push for a Stanley Cup Playoff berth or contend for the Cup.

Here's a look at a player from each of the 14 teams in the Western Conference who will be under pressure to perform as soon as the puck drops:

Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks -- Andersen grabbed the No. 1 goaltending job last season and ran with it all the way to the Western Conference Final, but he and the Ducks couldn't close out the Chicago Blackhawks after taking a 3-2 series lead. With John Gibson newly signed to a three-year contract and Anaheim expected to be a Cup contender, Andersen knows he'd better put the disappointment of last spring behind him quickly or face the possibility of not getting the chance to make amends next time around.

Shane Doan, Arizona Coyotes -- The face of the Coyotes turns 39 on Oct. 10, and he's coming off his worst full-season offensive totals (14 goals, 36 points) since 1998-99. The Coyotes, last in the Western Conference in 2014-15, need Doan to produce offensively as well as to be a mentor to the young talent general manager Don Maloney is bringing to the desert.

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames -- Gaudreau's offensive numbers as a rookie (24 goals, 64 points) were good enough to make him a Calder Trophy finalist and get the Flames to the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when they won a round for the first time since 2004. It was an impressive showing for one of the NHL's smallest players (5-foot-9, 150 pounds) -- he said he added some muscle in the offseason -- but neither he nor the Flames will take anyone by surprise this season, and Gaudreau will have to work even harder to avoid the sophomore jinx.

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks -- "Captain Serious" is the focal point of the Blackhawks, who have won the Stanley Cup three times in the past six seasons. For Chicago to have a realistic shot at winning the Cup again, it likely will need Toews to generate more offense than he did last season (28 goals, 66 points) while providing the leadership necessary to bring together a roster that has added several newcomers to its championship core.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche -- The 2014 Calder Trophy winner struggled in his second NHL season and didn't play at all after March 4 because of a broken foot. His drop-off mirrored that of the Avalanche, who missed the playoffs after winning the Central Division in 2013-14. They need MacKinnon to bounce back if they have any hope of getting back to the postseason. MacKinnon, who turned 20 on Sept. 1, said he added 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason, making him faster and better able to compete.

Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, Dallas Stars -- The Stars are loaded offensively and have a talented young defense. They need Lehtonen, the returning starter, or Niemi, a Stanley Cup winner with Chicago in 2010 who joined Dallas in June after spending the past five seasons with the San Jose Sharks, to provide solid goaltending on a nightly basis in order to return to the playoffs. Expect coach Lindy Ruff to ride the hot goaltender, at least until one of them wins the No. 1 job.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers -- Perhaps the biggest task for new coach Todd McLellan is to tamp down expectations for McDavid. The first player taken in the 2015 NHL Draft is expected to be a generational talent, but the Oilers haven't made the playoffs since 2006 and still have question marks on defense and in goal. The NHL is a huge step up from junior hockey, and at age 18, even players as talented as McDavid go through some growing pains.

Milan Lucic, Los Angeles Kings -- The Kings are looking for Lucic to provide the mix of scoring and strength he brought during most of his time with the Boston Bruins, who sent him to Los Angeles in June. Lucic's 16 goals and 44 points last season were a major drop-off from his 24 goals and 59 points in 2013-14. The Kings, who missed the playoffs last season after winning the Cup in 2014, need Lucic to return to being one of the NHL's best power forwards in order to get back into the postseason.

Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild -- The Wild acquired Dubnyk from the Coyotes on Jan. 13 in a desperation move; he rewarded them by going 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average and carrying Minnesota to the second round of the playoffs. The Wild rewarded Dubnyk with a six-year contract; they are banking on him to at least come close to his performance level last season as they try to continue their move toward the NHL's elite.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators -- Rinne, who turns 33 on Nov. 3, has been one of the NHL's best goaltenders for most of the past half-decade, and his return to form last season was a major reason the Predators qualified for the playoffs. But he couldn't get them past Chicago in the first round and goes into this season with an unproven backup (Carter Hutton). The Predators need Rinne to play at the same level he did last season (41-17-6, 2.18 GAA, .923 save percentage in 64 games) to have a chance to qualify for the playoffs in a loaded Central Division.

Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks -- The Sharks let Niemi go after they missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2003. They're counting on Jones, who backed up Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles for the past two seasons, to get them back to the postseason. Jones, who went from the Kings to the Bruins to the Sharks in less than a week in late June, has a 16-11-2 career record with a 1.99 GAA and .923 save percentage in 34 NHL games. However, he's never been a full-time starter, and the Sharks, though they have some elite talent, appear to lack secondary scoring and defensive depth.

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues -- The Blues went all-in on Tarasenko after his 37-goal, 73-point season, signing the 23-year-old forward to an eight-year contract reportedly worth $60 million. There's still room for improvement in Tarasenko's game, and the Blues need him to take another step forward this season if they hope to build on their regular-season achievements and make the long playoff run that has eluded them under coach Ken Hitchcock.

Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks -- The 20-year-old center had a solid rookie season, scoring 13 goals with 12 assists in 68 games, most of which he played on the third and fourth lines. Ten of his goals came after the All-Star break, and he was one of Vancouver's best forwards in the playoffs. Horvat has been getting time on the second line during the preseason, and with the Canucks desperate for secondary scoring, they need him to avoid a second-year slump and show why they traded goaltender Cory Schneider to get the chance to select him with the ninth pick at the 2013 draft.

Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets -- Pavelec is likely to start the season as the Jets' No. 1 goaltender. He's coming off the best season of his career (22-16-8, 2.28 GAA, .920 save percentage in 50 games), though he struggled in Anaheim's first-round sweep of Winnipeg. With the Jets owning a solid backup (Michael Hutchinson) and two top prospects (Eric Comrie and Connor Hellebuyck), Pavelec will have to prove that his performance last season wasn't just to keep his job.

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