The Biggest Question for Each Los Angeles Kings Line in 2014-15
They have the players in place to do so, it's just a matter of executing. One of the only issues in the past few years has been scoring. They have the firepower but sometimes struggle to score three or more goals per game for long stretches.
That's partly because of Darryl Sutter's system, but also because of a lack of chances created by the forwards. With Marian Gaborik set to play his first full season in L.A. and Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson earning valuable experience in the playoffs, expectations should be high for the Kings' forward lines in the 2014-15 NHL season.
With that in mind, here is the biggest question for each line.
Line 1: Can It Be the Most Dominant Line in the League?
Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown have the potential to be one of the best lines in the NHL next season.
Gaborik proved in the playoffs he is still one of the best snipers in the league. Brown adds grit and a physical presence, which will be key on the forecheck and in cycling the puck. Kopitar is entering his prime and is one of the elite playmakers and two-way forwards in the world.
It should be one of the best lines overall, in terms of its ability to control the puck and defend as well as produce offensively. But, from a strictly offensive perspective, it will face stiff competition from Chicago's top unit, Sidney Crosby's line and the Lightning's top line.
Kopitar and company must produce at a rate similar to those lines to be considered the league's best. That means Gaborik will likely need to hit the 40-goal mark for the fourth time in his career, while Brown will need to put up more than 20 goals.
Line 2: Will That 70s Line Stay Together?
The biggest question for the second line is who will be on it.
With the first line featuring a trio of veterans, it should be set in stone for most of the season. The future of the second line is less certain, despite its powerful playoff performance.
No. 70 Tanner Pearson, No. 77 Jeff Carter and No. 73 Tyler Toffoli formed that 70s line last season to the delight of L.A. fans. They were a major factor in the Kings' Cup run, as they combined for 21 goals and 30 assists. To put that in perspective, the top line had 25 goals and 37 assists.
But can the line hold strong throughout an 82-game grind? As one of the Kings' best snipers, Carter should be a regular on the second line at center or right wing. However, Pearson has yet to prove himself over a long stretch; in fact, he has just 25 games of regular-season experience. Toffoli doesn't have a full season under his belt yet either, with 72 games played.
In the long term, these two players will find themselves in the top six, but for now they will face stiff competition from veterans like Mike Richards and Justin Williams for those important spots in the lineup.
If the trio can build on its playoff success it could stay together for most of the season. But odds are a veteran or two will take a spot on the second line at some point.
Line 3: Will It Control the Pace?
Jarret Stoll has been a constant on the Kings' third line for years. He has been nothing short of spectacular in the faceoff dot, winning about 55 percent of his draws, even in the postseason.
Faceoffs are the crucial factor for the Kings' third line, as it works to defend in close games. Stoll's ability to win faceoffs—and his linemates' ability to help control the puck with clean breakouts, a strong forecheck and good puck cycling—is key.
Could age finally become a factor for Stoll and players like Justin Williams or will the third line continue to dominate the puck possession game?
Stoll and Williams are both 32 years old and have gone through a lot more wear and tear than most players in the league over the past three seasons. The fact that Williams won the Conn Smythe Trophy is a good indication that he still has plenty left in the tank. Stoll, on the other hand, could simply have his special teams time reduced if fatigue becomes a factor.
The benefits of a deep roster allow for the pressure to be taken off the veterans when needed. And, having a player like Dwight King who stands 6'4" and weighs 230 pounds at age 25, should help, as he can take on the bulk of the physical work.
Line 4: Will It Provide Scoring Depth?
When the 2013-14 season started, no one predicted the Kings' fourth line would be centered by one-time Stanley Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Mike Richards.
By the end of the playoffs that's exactly what his role was, between Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford. Richards struggled in the regular season, notching just 41 points. Although it was the fourth-best total on the team, it was a poor output by his standards.
When Richards is at his best, he's a good playmaker with excellent vision who can impact the game in all three zones. If he remains on the fourth line early next season, the line should produce at a decent rate for a fourth line.
However, the Kings don't pay Richards $5.75 million per year to suit up on the checking line. Expect Richards to take a spot on the second or third line and for the fourth line to look a little more traditional.
Clifford brings great size at 6'2", 211 pounds, and Lewis makes good use of his 6'1", 198-pound frame, especially defensively. Dwight King, Adam Cracknell and Jordan Nolan will also fight for a spot on the fourth line, which ultimately should provide offensive production similar to what is has in the past few seasons.