Predicting Los Angeles Kings' Most Improved Players for 2014-15 Season
The Los Angeles Kings have won two Stanley Cup titles in the past three seasons, but they haven't had strong regular seasons in any of the past three years.
To make defending their championship an easier task, the Kings need to win their division and gain home-ice advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Players like Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty will be playing at a high level as they have throughout their careers. There is however, room for improvement among a group of players.
This includes a veteran who struggled last season and youngsters who didn't play the full season. This is a look at who the Kings' most improved players should be in 2014-15.
Tanner Pearson showed great poise and maturity as a member of that 70s line in the 2013-14 playoffs. If that's any indication, he should be the Kings' most improved forward from 2013-14 to 2014-15.
The 21-year-old appeared in just 25 games last season, scoring three goals and adding four assists for seven points. He averaged just under 11 minutes per game in ice time and was a plus-two.
Given the chemistry he developed with Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli, along with the improvements to his skating, Pearson should be a regular in the L.A. lineup next season. He stands 6'1" and weighs 200 pounds, has a good shot and strong offensive instincts.
If he can improve the physical side of his game and work more effectively in front of the net, he could be a 20-goal scorer next year. Look for Pearson to earn close to 14 minutes per game in ice time.
Dustin Brown's mega eight-year, $47 million contract starts in 2014-15, a season in which the Kings captain has something to prove. At least in terms of production, that is, as it's hard to question a player who has led his team to two Stanley Cup titles in three years.
Brown's slow start last season extended well past December and into the Olympic break. When the season finished, Brown had recorded just 15 goals and 12 assists for 27 points in 79 games. Statistically it was the worst season of his career.
However, he turned things around in the playoffs, earning a spot on the top line for much of the Cup run. Brown should be among the Kings' most improved players in 2014-15, while the 2013-14 season will likely be remembered as a fluke year.
The 29-year-old should be healthy, playing aggressively and leading by example throughout the regular season. And, if he spends time on the top unit with Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar as expected, points should be easy to come by.
Alec Martinez certainly gained recognition among casual fans with his heroics in last year's playoffs. He scored the series-winning goal in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final versus the Chicago Blackhawks. He followed that up by scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 5 versus the New York Rangers.
The 27-year-old blueliner has great puck-moving abilities, a strong shot and good awareness in the defensive zone. He notched 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points in 61 games last season, in addition to 96 hits and 75 blocked shots.
A well-rounded defenseman, Martinez has never played more than 61 games in a season. Could 2014-15 be the year he plays 75-plus games? If he does, look for Martinez to put up more than 25 points and play the best defensive hockey of his career.
He's entering his prime and should be full of confidence after the Cup run.
Kyle Clifford's production declined significantly in 2013-14, as he registered a career-low eight points in 71 games. In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign he had 14 points in 48 games.
The 23-year-old will face stiff competition for good minutes in the bottom six this season, which should help motivate him to be better. Clifford must use all 6'2", 211 pounds of his frame to his advantage each shift. He registered 189 hits last season, which ranked fourth on the team. Taking the body on the forecheck and applying pressure in front of the opposing goaltender are the keys to success for Clifford.
He should continue to have an impact physically, while his penalty minutes will decrease as he fights less frequently than he did early in his career.
He will likely play with a variety of linemates, including Mike Richards. If he can adapt well each game based on whom he's playing with, Clifford should record 15 to 20 points.