Many expected the Los Angeles Kings to challenge for a playoff spot this season, but it looks like they are still at least another season away. The Kings have been a nightmare defensively, and decided that getting stud prospect Jonathan Bernier out of town before his development was 'screwed up' was the best idea.
Neither Jason Labarbera nor JS Aubin have been horrendous, but the Kings defensemen have been downright awful. Up front the Kings are one of the more talented teams in the league, but their free agent signings (Ladislav Nagy, Michal Handzus, Kyle Calder) have not been a big factor. It is the play of sophomore Anze Kopitar that is carrying this team right now. Kopitar is arguably the best young player in the Western Conference, and if he were on a playoff team would receive much more publicity. His upside is through the roof (100-plus points), and he is already the offensive leader on that club. Expect him to boost his numbers from last season significantly - even playing on another below average Kings squad.
The Vancouver Canucks have been extremely inconsistent this season, save for two players. Ryan Kesler (six points in nine games) and Lukas Krajicek (four points in nine games) both look poised to post breakout seasons. Kesler has been the most dangerous Canuck forward by far, using his speed to beat opposing defensemen. Krajicek is looking much more poised and confident then ever, and is moving the puck and pinching in with authority.
Expect Kesler to put up 15-20 goals and 40 points, while Krajicek could approach 30 points. He will remain a fixture on the top powerplay unit, and should get even more points when Sami Salo and his booming point shot return. Kesler was tried at wing on the second line, but he is much more effective at center. He will play mostly on the third line, but will see some powerplay time on both units.
Three to Watch:
Igor Grigorenko – the Wings brass has been unhappy with his play this season in the AHL, but he is getting the call up (because he refuses to play in the AHL anymore) and could play against Vancouver on Wednesday. Consider this his last chance to make it in the NHL.
Ryan Smyth – returning the Edmonton to face the Oilers tonight. This could be the first of many big games for the gritty winger. Expect him to get hot soon.
Martin Hanzal – Hanzal has been outperforming fellow rookie Peter Mueller early on this season. Expect him to play most of the games for the Coyotes this year, and he might even sniff 20 goals. Does not have a shot at the Calder with Sam Gagner and the pair from the Blackhawks, though.
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