The Los Angeles Kings' 2013-14 season will get underway in just over a week and expectations are high, just as they have been the past couple years.
The Kings have great depth up front, a mix of stay-at-home and offensive defensemen on the blue line and of course, an elite goaltender. However, even the NHL's very best teams have a number of things to prove during the course of a season.
Here are five burning questions facing the Kings as they enter the 2013-14 NHL campaign.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.
Willie Mitchell has struggled to stay healthy in recent years, having dealt with a concussion and ongoing knee problems. Mitchell hasn't played a full season since 2008-09 with the Vancouver Canucks, and he missed the entire lockout-shortened 2013 season because of his knee.
The rugged 36-year-old veteran could have called it quits, and his last NHL game would have been Game 6 of the 2011-12 Stanley Cup Final, where he and his L.A. teammates hoisted the Cup. Instead he's back for more.
According to Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times, there was no inflammation in Mitchell's knee after a very intense first day of training camp.
If he can stay healthy for the remainder of the season and playoffs, Mitchell could have a big impact playing on L.A.'s second pairing and on the penalty kill. The Kings managed to get to the conference finals without him, but in an 82-game season and potentially another long playoff run, Mitchell would be a major asset.
Even at his age, he can still be one of the Kings' top players in the defensive zone. Look for Mitchell's ice time to be limited early on, but to increase as the season progresses.
The Kings' power play hasn't been awful in comparison to other NHL teams, but considering the offensive talent on forward and defense, it's certainly underachieved.
Last season L.A.'s power-play percentage was 19.9 percent, which ranked 10th in the league. In 2011-12 the Kings tied for 16th, having scored on just 17 percent of their opportunities. And in both years the power play was significantly worse in the postseason.
That may not have prevented the Kings from winning the Cup, but they can't always rely on Jonathan Quick and clutch scoring five-on-five to bail them out.
A power play which operates at a rate closer to 25 percent rather than 20 percent isn't unrealistic to expect. With a full training camp under Darryl Sutter, the team should have a good system in place and two solid lines ready to execute.
There are a few factors at play here, the most important being how well the prospects perform now and in Manchester.
As of Sunday the Kings had 31 players remaining at training camp. Brandon Kozun and Andrew Campbell were sent down to the Monarchs, while Marc-Andre Cliche was claimed off waivers by the Colorado Avalanche, according to the team's official website.
With that said, it's unlikely even top prospects Linden Vey or Tanner Pearson will be with the team to start the regular season because of L.A.'s depth. However, they should get a chance to make their NHL regular-season debuts at some point this season, whether it's due to injuries or poor play by the fourth line.
Matt Frattin, who the Kings acquired as part of the Bernier deal, should continue to show off his offensive skill and physicality when the season begins.
The 25-year-old stands 6'0" and weighs 205 pounds. He has spent much of training camp playing with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter on L.A.'s second line. He has a strong shot, good speed and has no problem mixing it up in the corners.
Watch for Frattin to play big minutes five-on-five and on the power play, and to rack up decent numbers in the process.
Jonathan Quick's stats from the past two seasons tell you all you need to know.
2011-12: 35-21-13, with a .929 save percentage, 1.95 goals-against average and 10 shutouts.
2013: 18-13-4, with a .902 save percentage, 2.45 goals-against average and one shutout.
The 27-year-old was average at the best of times last year, which leaves us wondering what's in store for the upcoming campaign. Will Quick perform like the dominant netminder who earned a Vezina Trophy nomination in 2012?
It's a question David Poile and the rest of the Team USA executives are likely pondering as well.
Having a goaltender who can stand on his head and steal games could be the difference between gold and silver for the U.S. in Sochi. And a Stanley Cup or May tee times for the Kings.