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NHL Expert Picks: Why the Kings are poised to raise the Stanley Cup again

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

The Kings could be celebrating again in June.(USATSI)
The Kings could be celebrating again in June. (USATSI)

NHL previews: Atlantic Division | Metropolitan Division | Central Division | Pacific Division

Since the beginning of the salary cap era in the NHL, only one team has managed to win the Stanley Cup twice. Of course, it was the Chicago Blackhawks, accomplishing the feat last season against the Boston Bruins, who were also looking for that second Cup since 2011.

With a roster still centered around the core that drove Chicago's 2010 Stanley Cup run, the Blackhawks were able to pull off their second Cup in four seasons. Though it's been rare for teams to win Cups in such quick succession, the Los Angeles Kings may be poised to join the Blackhawks in that exclusive class.

Similarly to Chicago, the Kings have their Stanley Cup core intact, even more so, with 17 players from the 2012 team and four more who were part of the Kings' run to the Western Conference Final last season. This is a battle-tested team with a load of scoring depth and one of the league's best goaltenders when he's on his game.

If the Kings are going to make an honest run at Stanley once again, a lot of the responsibility rests on Jonathan Quick. LA has the horses up front to put up a lot of goals, but it is Quick, like so many goaltenders, that can hold his team's fate in his gloved hands.

The 2012 Conn Smythe winner planted a seed of doubt in his game with his sub-par regular-season performance in the truncated 2013 season. He, of course, rebounded with a playoff performance that brought to mind his game-saving capabilities in the 2012 Stanley Cup run.

It is highly unlikely that Quick will have the same kind of regular season he did in 2013. His numbers were well below career averages and at just 27 years old, he still may have another gear to get to. The good news for LA is that when the lights were brightest in the playoffs, Quick brought his very best to the table. He also doesn't have Jonathan Bernier breathing down his neck anymore to take his job, which could be a good or a bad thing, but only time will tell.

The Kings are battle-tested due to the depth of playoff experience on its roster, but the regular season could be another battle to overcome. There are no less than six teams in the new Pacific Division that could make an honest push for a playoff spot. Winning the division is certainly no guarantee for the Kings, but the long race to the playoffs should keep the Kings sharp as they've proven to be awfully dangerous with their backs against the wall.

LA was a top-10 scoring team in the NHL last season, averaging 2.73 goals-per-game. That number has potential to increase in 2013-14. The Kings have offensively dynamic players in Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter, who should drive the scoring for the team, but an influx of youth could take it to the next level.

Tyler Toffoli, who still has rookie status despite earning some NHL action last season, including during LA's playoff run, should be a legitimate scoring threat. He had six points in 12 postseason contests and was a scoring sensation in both junior hockey and during his time with the Manchester Monarchs in the American Hockey League last season.

The Kings also added Matt Frattin to the mix as part of the deal sending Bernier to Toronto. He had 13 points, including seven goals in limited action with the Maple Leafs last season and could thrive with a new opportunity.

Beyond the scoring depth, the Kings have balance up front, seemingly equal parts skill and grit, which seems to be perfectly embodied by the team's captain, Dustin Brown.

We've gotten this far and haven't mentioned Drew Doughty, but obviously he's a key piece to anything the Kings are able to do throughout the season. One of the league's best all-around defensemen, Doughty has plenty of help on the backend and the Kings should expect another big year out of Slava Voynov, who tied for the team lead in playoff scoring. Add in the veteran defensive stalwarts like Matt Greene, Robyn Regehr and a hopefully-healthy Willie Mitchell and this is a tough defensive unit.

The Kings have depth, they have experience and they've added a few young players that could provide a bit more of a spark. Add in the fact that Darryl Sutter seems to know which buttons to push when the going gets tough and you have one of the league's most dangerous teams on paper.

One cause for concern, and why I make this pick somewhat trepidatiously, the Kings are going to have a lot of players involved in the Olympics, in all likelihood. That means even more work for key players in the middle of a full 82-game season on the heels of two deep postseason runs. On the other hand, it's even more experience in high-stakes games for relatively young, fit players, which may harden this team even more.

This club will have to prove that all the extra work over the last two postseasons and for many, the Olympics, doesn't wear them out when they get to the end of the season, but if they play up to their vast potential, the Los Angeles Kings will be hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup once again.

 
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