Photo: Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images
With the start of the 2022-23 NHL season nine days away, NoVa Caps continues their annual division previews. We will roll on with the Pacific Division.
2021-22 Result: 27-49-6, last in Pacific Division, 15th in Western Conference
- RW Oliver Bjorkstrand (28 goals)
- LW Andre Burakovsky (39 assists, 61 points)
- D Adam Larsson (22:17 average TOI/game)
- G Philipp Grubauer (18 wins)
Key Offseason Additions: Bjorkstrand, Burakovsky, C John Hayden, G Martin Jones, D Justin Schultz, C Shane Wright, D Michal Kempny
Key Offseason Subtractions: RW Austin Czarnik, D Hadyn Fleury, D Dennis Cholowski, C Riley Sheahan
The Kraken made a lot of changes after a disappointing inaugural season as they brought in some finishers in Burakovsky and Bjorkstrand to help an offense that tied 28th in the NHL with a 2.60 goals-per-game average.
The team will also need rebound seasons from many, including left-wing Jaden Schwartz (who was limited to just 37 games and scored just eight goals and 23 points), center Alexander Wennberg (11 goals, 37 points in 80 games), and right-wing Joonas Donskoi (two goals, 22 points in 75 games), all of whom showed better scoring prowess in their previous stops.
While the Kraken need a lot of players to show last year was a one-off, they need it the most from Grubauer, who put up career-lows in save percentage (.889) and goals-against average (3.16) in 55 games. Back-up Chris Driedger will be out until sometime in between January and March while recovering from a torn ACL so Grubauer will be counted on even more.
Seattle will also feature a couple of the league’s top prospects in centers Matty Berniers (three goals, nine points in 10 NHL games after posting 20 goals and 43 points in 37 games at the University of Michigan), the second overall pick in 2021, and Shane Wright (32 goals, 94 points in 63 OHL games), the fourth overall pick in July, expected to make the jump to the NHL.
The Kraken will almost certainly not be as bad in their second season in the league but will need a lot of things to go right with a number of players.
2021-22 Result: 31-37-14, seventh in Pacific Division, 13th in Western Conference
- RW Troy Terry (37 goals, 67 points)
- D John Klingberg (41 assists)
- D Cam Fowler (24:25 average TOI/game)
- G John Gibson (18 wins)
Key Offseason Additions: C Ryan Strome, RW Frank Vatrano, D Dmitry Kulikov, D John Klingberg, D Olli Juolevi
Key Offseason Subtractions: D Jacob Larsson, RW Buddy Robinson, C Sam Steel
As the post-Ryan Getzlaf era begins, the Ducks will continue to lean on the growth from Terry and center Trevor Zegras (23 goals, 61 points in 75 games) after each had breakout seasons.
To help, the team added some reinforcements in Strome (21 goals, 54 points in 74 regular-season games with the New York Rangers) and Vatrano (18 goals, 32 points in 71 regular-season games with Rangers and Florida Panthers) to an offense that ranks 31st in the NHL with an average of 2.51 goals-per-game over the past four seasons.
The Ducks will need Gibson to finally be the starter they saw from him earlier in his career. The lowest save percentage he recorded was .917 in his first four NHL seasons while the highest goals-against average he earned was 2.84 over that time. Over the past three seasons, Gibson has not finished with a save percentage higher than .904 and a goals-against average lower than 2.98.
Anaheim also made a fair amount of changes on the backend, bringing in three new defensemen in Kulikov, Klingberg, and Juolevi. Klingberg should also help improve a power-play that has been the fourth-worst in the league (16.5%) over the past four seasons as his 136 power-play points since 2015-16 is good for eighth among NHL defensemen.
The Ducks are expected and need to take another step forward this season but will probably not be a serious threat.
San Jose Sharks
2021-22 Result: 32-37-13, sixth in Pacific Division, 12th in Western Conference
- RW Timo Meier (35 goals, 41 assists, 76 points)
- D Erik Karlsson (23:28 average TOI/game)
- G James Reimer (19 wins)
Key Offseason Additions: GM Mike Grier, C Nico Sturm, D Markus Nutivaara, D Matt Benning, LW Oskar Lindblom, C Steven Lorentz, G Eetu Makiniemi, C Luke Kunin, Head Coach David Quinn, LW Evgeny Svechnikov
Key Offseason Subtractions: G Adin Hill, C Ryan Dzingel, D Brent Burns, LW Rudolfs Balcers, C John Leonard, Head Coach Bob Boughner, G Zach Sawchenko
The Sharks will begin a new era with a new GM and coaching staff this season after the departure of Burns, who was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes on July 13.
The team shuffled up their forward group over the offseason after averaging just 2.58 goals-per-game (30th in the NHL) over the past three seasons but none of the forwards acquired are expected to significantly boost scoring. The loss of Burns, who co-led the Sharks with 18 power-play points, will also hurt in that area. Other than Meier, centers Tomas Hertl (30) and Logan Couture (23) were the only Sharks with at least 20 goals last season.
It is unclear who the starting goaltender in San Jose will be between Reimer (19-17-10, .911 save percentage, 2.90 goals-against average, shutout) and Kaapo Kahkonen (14-14-4, .912 save percentage, 2.87 goals-against average), who was acquired from the Minnesota Wild on March 21.
Karlsson (10 goals, 35 points in 50 games) will need to step up, especially after Burns was dealt. After earning at least 62 points in his last five seasons with the Ottawa Senators, the 32-year-old has not tallied more than 45 or played in more than 56 games in any of his four seasons in San Jose.
The Sharks made a couple of good pickups but are not expected to change much in terms of movement in the standings.
2021-22 Result: 40-30-12, fifth in Pacific Division, 10th in Western Conference
- C J.T. Miller (32 goals, 67 points, 99 points)
- C Elias Pettersson (32 goals)
- D Quinn Hughes (25:15 average TOI/game)
- G Thatcher Demko (33 wins)
Key Offseason Additions: D Christian Wolanin, G Collin Delia, RW Ilya Mikheyev, C Curtis Lazar, C Andrei Kuzmenko
Key Offseason Subtractions: D Brad Hunt, RW Matthew Highmore, G Jaroslav Halak
The Canucks could take a big step forward with a full season under head coach Bruce Boudreau, who led the team to a 32-15-10 finish to the season (11th) after he replaced Travis Green on December 5.
After adding Mikheyev and Kuzmenko, the Canucks could have the best forward depth in the NHL led by three centers who scored at least 30 goals last season (Miller, Pettersson – 32, and Bo Horvat – 31). The team’s power-play has been one of the most lethal lately (including a 23.5% conversion rate in 2021-22, ninth) and should only improve after bringing in a couple of offensive wingers.
The Canucks’ defense remains the Achilles heel of this team as they have an open spot on the right side of their top-four group. They finished with a 74.9% penalty-killing efficiency, tied for 30th. Though, it saw an uptick up to 80.5% (11th) after the head coaching change. The Canucks’ penalty kill will have to build on how they finished last season.
The team is expected to rely heavily on Demko, who went 33-22-7 with a .915 save percentage, 2.72 goals-against average, and a shutout in 64 games (third-most) last season, and Delia, who is expected to be his back-up, has started just 11 games over the past three seasons. The team may be better off finding a dependable goalie who can give the Canucks some confidence to rest Demko.
The Canucks should improve this season but could do so even more if they address a couple of needs.
Vegas Golden Knights
2021-22 Result: 43-31-8, fourth in Pacific Division, ninth in Western Conference
- RW Jonathan Marchessault (30 goals, 66 points)
- RW Phil Kessel (44 assists)
- D Alex Pietrangelo (24:39 average TOI/game)
- Gs Adin Hill, Laurent Brossoit, Logan Thompson (10 wins)
Key Offseason Additions: Hill, Kessel, G Michael Hutchinson, Head Coach Bruce Cassidy
Key Offseason Subtractions: LW Max Pacioretty, D Dylan Coghlan, Head Coach Pete DeBoer, LW Mattias Janmark, RW Evgenii Dadonov
The Golden Knights will head into the season with a lot of balls in the air in goal after the team announced that Robin Lehner will miss the entire season with a hip injury. The team acquired Hill, who went 10-11-1 with a .906 save percentage, 2.66 goals-against average, and two shutouts in 25 games with the Sharks, to get some experience behind Thompson and Brossoit, who have combined for 126 NHL games. Thompson, 25, appears to be the favorite to be the starter after going 10-5-3 with a .914 save percentage, 2.68 goals-against average, and a shutout in his rookie campaign.
After losing their leading point-per-game scorer from last season in Pacioretty and a 20-goal scorer in Dadonov, the Golden Knights’ offense is lacking finishers after the team finished in a tie for 12th with an average of 3.20 goals-per-game and 25th with an 18.4% power-play efficiency. The addition of Kessel, who notched 52 points in 82 games with the Arizona Coyotes, should help but likely won’t be enough to overcome those two losses and the lack of a starting netminder.
Another storyline to watch in Vegas will be what kind of impact center Jack Eichel will have in his first full season with the team. After undergoing neck surgery, which cost him four months out of the lineup, the 25-year-old finished the season with 14 goals and 25 points in 34 games. However, Eichel is coming off of a full offseason of preparation and needs to make a big impact. The Golden Knights paid a big price to get him in November with a huge hole at center on their top-line. A full season of defenseman Alec Martinez, who was limited to just 26 games in 2021-22, should also help.
While the Golden Knights have some talented players, it is questionable whether their management is too aggressive in pursuit of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. That has resulted in a lot of roster turnover and three head coaches over the past four seasons. The Golden Knights were the second-best team in the NHL and went to the Stanley Cup Semifinals just two seasons ago but now, they are in a very tough position especially with their starting goaltender unavailable this season. Has and will going all-in been and be worth it?
Los Angeles Kings
2021-22 Result: 44-27-11, third in Pacific Division, sixth in Western Conference; lost to Edmonton Oilers in first round of Stanley Cup Playoffs
- LW Adrian Kempe (35 goals)
- LW Kevin Fiala (52 assists, 85 points)
- D Drew Doughty (25:44 average TOI/game)
- G Jonathan Quick (23 wins)
Key Offseason Additions: Fiala
Key Offseason Subtractions: Wolanin, D Olli Maatta, D Troy Stetcher, RW Martin Frk
The Kings are hoping for an offensive spark from Fiala, 26, after the team finished last season 20th with an average of 2.87 goals-per-game and 27th with a 16.1% power-play efficiency. Fiala recorded five goals and 17 points on the man advantage.
The team has a little bit of a conundrum in goal after Quick (23-13-9, .910 save percentage, 2.59 goals-against average, two shutouts) reclaimed the starting job from Cal Petersen (20-14-2, .895 save percentage, 2.89 goals-against average, three shutouts), who posted a .923 save percentage in 19 games over his first two NHL seasons from 2018-20 but has seen his play fallen off since.
The up-and-coming Kings will continue to lean on the development of young players such as 21-year-old right-wing Arthur Kaliyev (14 goals, 27 points in 80 games during rookie season); 23-year-old defenseman Sean Durzi (three goals, 27 points, -9 rating, 51.56% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 51.79% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, 51.66% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 64 games); and 20-year-old center Quinton Byfield (five goals, 10 points in 40 games) to build off of their breakout year.
The Kings’ defense was strong last season as it held opponents to an average of just 2.83 goals-per-game but will need to be better on the penalty-kill where they ranked 22nd with a 76.7% rate. In addition to Durzi, defensemen Jordan Spence (two goals, eight points, a 57.39% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 55.21% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 53.83% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 24 games) and Matt Roy (19 assists, 21 points, +23 rating, 55.68% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 54.93% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 56.54% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 67 games) were among those who seized the opportunity down the stretch and will look to continue their trajectory this season.
This is a team on the rise and one that is expected to continue to build off their previous campaign.
2021-22 Result: 44-27-11, third in Pacific Division, fifth in Western Conference; lost to Colorado Avalanche in Western Conference Final
- C Leon Draisaitl (55 goals)
- C Connor McDavid (79 assists, 123 points)
- D Darnell Nurse (25:03 average TOI/game)
- G Jack Campbell (31 wins)
Key Offseason Additions: Janmark, Campbell, C Greg McKegg, D Ryan Murray
Key Offseason Subtractions: RW Josh Archibald, G Mikko Koskinen, G Mike Smith, D Duncan Keith, RW Zack Kassian
The Oilers finally brought in a proven starter in Campbell, who ranked 11th in the NHL in wins (31), tied for 15th in save percentage (.914), tied for 14th in goals-against average (2.64), and tied for fourth with five shutouts in 49 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2021-22. Although, the team will need him to be better than he was to end last season as he posted an .896 save percentage and a 3.22 goals-against average in his final 31 games.
The team will need players such as right-wings Jesse Puljujarvi (career-highs in assists – 22 – and points – 36 – in 65 games) and Kailer Yamamoto (20 goals, 41 points in 81 games) to build off of strong campaigns as McDavid and Draisaitl combined for nearly 35% (99 of 285) of the team’s goals last season. With a full season of left-wing Evander Kane, who scored 22 goals and 39 points in 43 regular-season games before tallying 13 goals and 17 points in 15 postseason outings, the Oilers should be deeper offensively than last season.
Over the past four seasons, this team has an NHL-best 25.9% power-play efficiency and a 81.8% penalty-killing rate over the last three (tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for seventh). However, the penalty kill dipped last season as they finished slightly below average with a 79.4% rate but it should improve with a more established starter as Campbell finished with an .890 penalty-killing rate, better than both of their goalies from last season’s tandem.
The Oilers are expected to be a top threat in the Western Conference with arguably the two best offensive players in the NHL.
2021-22 Result: 50-21-11, first in Pacific Division, third in Western Conference; lost to Oilers in Second Round
- C Elias Lindholm (42 goals)
- LW Jonathan Huberdeau (85 assists, 115 points)
- D MacKenzie Weegar (23:22 average TOI/game)
- G Jacob Markstrom (37 wins)
Key Offseason Additions: Huberdeau, Weegar, C Nazem Kadri, C Kevin Rooney
Key Offseason Subtractions: C Sean Monahan, LW Matthew Tkachuk, LW Calle Jarnkrok, RW Ryan Carpenter, LW Johnny Gaudreau
After their two leading scorers (who combined for 219 points) from last season both stated they would no longer play in Calgary, the team arguably improved by acquiring Huberdeau, a top-pairing analytical darling defenseman in Weegar, and Kadri (who is coming off of a career season where he tallied 59 assists and 87 points in 71 games with the Avalanche).
The addition of Weegar gives the Flames arguably the deepest defense in the NHL, which held opponents to an average of 2.51 goals-per-game (third) and was 83.2% efficient on the power play (sixth) last season.
Markstrom had the best season of his career and was one of the top starters in the league as he posted a .922 save percentage (tied for third) and 2.22 goals-against average (third). However, he faltered in the team’s second-round series against the Oilers as he finished with an .852 save percentage and a 5.12 goals-against average. He will need to be better down the stretch for this team to reach its potential.
While the Flames appear to be a better team on paper, they went through a lot of roster turnover that included some of the top players in the NHL. They should still be among the elite but it could always backfire as there is always risk that comes with any significant changes. The team could need some time to mesh before results start showing.
The Flames are amongst the deepest teams in the league and should be considered a Stanley Cup contender as there is not a piece that they are missing.
Puljujarvi – Oilers
The fourth overall pick in 2016 took a leap forward last season, but more is desired from him especially after posting just two goals and three points in 16 postseason games. With even more opportunity next to McDavid and/or Draisaitl, Puljujarvi could find another level in his game.
C Nic Roy – Golden Knights
After the team lost Pacioretty and Dadonov over the offseason, the team will need some forwards to take the ball and run. The 25-year-old has played different roles on various lines over the past three seasons and is coming off of his best one yet, where he tallied 15 goals and 39 points in 78 games. With more opportunity, Roy could build upon last season.
Beniers — Kraken
The 19-year-old made the most of a small opportunity late last season and could be the beneficiary of the Kraken lacking a true No. 1 center at the moment. Gourde and Wennberg are respectable centers but likely not an ideal one so if Beniers could build off of a strong season last year, he could demand a big role that may feature time with players such as Burakovsky, Schwartz, and/or Bjorkstrand.
C Isac Lundestrom — Ducks
The 22-year-old finished last season with 16 goals and 29 points in 80 games and should benefit from the Ducks adding center Ryan Strome. Lundestrom was a first-round pick in 2018 and is expected to show some growth along with the Ducks’ other young players.
1. X – Flames
2. X – Oilers
3. X – Kings
4. X – Canucks
5. Golden Knights
* X – denotes postseason teams
Previous Division Previews
By Harrison Brown