The best team in the NHL’s Western Conference is not the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
That team took some notable personnel hits. The Los Angeles Kings loom as the team to beat, thanks to a strong team nucleus and an impressive wave of youngsters pushing for significant roles.
Defenseman Slava Voynov appears poised to break out after scoring six goals and adding seven assists in 18 playoff games. LA absorbed a series of big injury hits on defense and Voynov stepped up to assume a big workload. Overall Voynov has 45 points and a plus-17 rating in 102 regular season NHL games.
Here are five more developing players to watch closely:
Jake Muzzin, D: He has the skills to become an impact offensive defenseman. He scored 67 points in 64 games during his last season for Sault Ste. Marie in the Ontario Hockey League and scored 31 points in 71 games for Manchester during his final American Hockey League season. In 45 Kings games last season, he scored seven goals (three on the power play) and added nine assists with a plus-16 rating.
Matt Frattin, W: He was the key return piece in the trade that sent goaltender Jonathan Bernier to Toronto. He scored seven goals in 25 games for the Maple Leafs last season -- and 14 goals in 23 games for the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. He also scored 36 goals in 44 games during his final season at the University of North Dakota. He looks to be a classic supplemental scorer.
Tyler Toffoli, W: Twice he reached the 100-point plateau playing in the OHL. He scored 28 goals in 58 games for Manchester in the AHL. He also scored five points in 10 regular season NHL games and six points in 12 playoff games. He should play on the second or third line this season and add critical scoring depth for the Kings.
Linden Vey, C: The Kings are set down the middle with Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll anchoring the top three lines. Vey is a solid two-way center who could play on one of the top three lines some day . . . when an opening emerges. He scored 22 goals and dished 45 assists in 74 games for Manchester last season, his second in the AHL. He offers significant injury protection.
Tanner Pearson, W: He has the tools to play on one of the top two lines, but he is still developing after scoring 47 points in 64 games for Manchester last season. He scored 91 points in 60 games in his final season for the Barrie Colts. The Kings want to him to get stronger and fully develop his offensive game before making the jump.