The Los Angeles Kings will open their 2013-14 season on Thursday, Oct. 3 in Minnesota against the Wild. They have had a strong preseason thus far, and with two games remaining, there are a few cuts still to be made.
There shouldn't be any major roster changes beyond those stemming from the Jonathan Bernier trade and the return of a veteran defenseman.
Expectations are obviously high for the 2012 Stanley Cup champions, but there are still some bold predictions to be made.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.
The Kings have had great success in the postseason in recent years, including their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history in 2012.
Regular-season triumphs, however, have been few and far between. That will change in the 2013-14 campaign, when they will be the team to beat in the new-look Pacific Division.
Watch for the Kings to make a big statement in their season series with the defending division champion Anaheim Ducks.
The Kings match up well against their rivals because of their physical, defensive play, which can slow down Anaheim's stars. The Kings have a number of two-way forwards who can establish a good forecheck, but also limit Ryan Getzlaf and Cory Perry's scoring chances.
Moreover, highly skilled young defensemen Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov lead a deep group of blueliners who are all capable of taking on Anaheim's top two lines.
The Kings went 2-1-1 against the Ducks last season, with their only regulation loss coming early in the year when they were struggling mightily.
Three of their five meetings will be in L.A. this season, although just two will be played at the Staples Center. Dodger Stadium will play host to an outdoor contest between the two California clubs on Jan. 25, 2014.
Jeff Carter is currently in the prime of his career, as he's set to turn 29 years old on New Year's Day. With a rapid release and deadly accurate wrist shot, this may be his year to make a run at the Maurice Richard Trophy.
Last season, Carter finished with 26 goals—the fourth-most in the NHL behind Alex Ovechkin, Steve Stamkos and John Tavares. That put him on pace for 44 goals in an 82-game season.
With seven assists in 48 games, though, his stat line could have passed for a Cy Young winner's win/loss record.
Carter has only topped the 40-goal mark once, scoring 46 with the Flyers in 2008-09. That's a number he could surpass this season with plenty of ice time at even strength and on the power play.
Carter should see big minutes playing right wing on the second line with Mike Richards at center and Matt Frattin on the left side.
Richards has good playmaking abilities and assisted on more than half of Carter's goals last season. Frattin should bring added grit and toughness to a line that consistently maintains pressure in the offensive zone.
On the power play, Carter should find himself on the top unit with Anze Kopitar at center and Richards as well as Drew Doughty on the blue line. Given that he has the best shot on the team, his linemates will likely try to feed him the puck in and around the slot.
L.A. finished seventh in the league with a goals-against average of 2.38 in the lockout-shortened 2013 season. Good, but not great like the 2.08 goals against per game the Kings allowed in 2011-12, which ranked second to only the St. Louis Blues.
Jonathan Quick had an off year in 2013, and with the Olympics coming up in February, expect the American netminder to have a Vezina-caliber campaign.
Slava Voynov is coming off an excellent postseason, and with 140 total games of NHL experience in addition to a full training camp, he should be playing the best defensive hockey of his career.
Willie Mitchell, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, is ready to go this year and should be one of L.A.'s best shutdown blueliners.
On top of that, the defense's job is made easier because of a strong group of two-way forwards playing in front of it. Players like Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll are always backchecking effectively, making smart defensive plays in their own end and in the neutral zone.
Slava Voynov had an impressive 2013 campaign. The 23-year-old played in all 48 games and recorded 25 points. He followed that up with an even better performance in the postseason, registering 13 points in 18 games.
With the Olympics set to go in Sochi in February, the Russian defenseman will need to have another strong season to prove he's ready to represent his country on home ice.
With that in mind, Voynov should finish near the top of the leaderboard for points among defensemen. He finished 19th last season, averaging about half a point per game, which was up from 0.37 points per game in 2012.
There is no reason that number shouldn't increase again this season.
Voynov is a strong skater with great puck-moving ability and excellent offensive vision. Considering his performance in the 2013 playoffs, Voynov should get to play more minutes—including on the power play.
This, along with good performances from the forwards playing in front of him, should give Voynov a big boost statistically.
There are a number of Kings who should have a shot at winning gold when representing their country at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Drew Doughty will help Canada attempt to defend its title, while Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick will play a much bigger role this time around for the Americans.
However, despite having a better lineup than it did in Vancouver and dominating the round robin again, Team U.S.A. will take home silver. Russia will take gold with a relentless offensive attack and a little luck on home ice.
As for the Kings, going deep in the playoffs for a third consecutive year will be a tough task. The last team to go to three consecutive conference finals was the Detroit Red Wings from 2007-2009.
The Kings are young enough and have the depth and skill needed to accomplish this feat. A strong forecheck, great team defense and brilliant goaltending will carry them back to the conference final, and maybe even the Cup Final, but the Kings won't capture a second cup in three years.