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Nathan MacKinnon

Under Pressure: Nathan MacKinnon

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It may seem a bit unfair to choose a 19-year-old for this category, but when you’re a former first overall pick that was awarded the Calder Trophy in your rookie season, and then you go through the dreaded sophomore slump? Well, it makes it a little more fair.

Nathan MacKinnon had just 38 points in 64 games last season. He had 63 points as a rookie in 2013-14.

“The whole team was kind of in a slump,” MacKinnon told the Chronicle Herald in May. “We weren’t playing well and we weren’t scoring. Things started going better for me but then I got hurt so it was kind of the perfect storm. But at the same time, I didn’t play well and do the things out there I think I can.

“It’s one season and sometimes it can be tough when it’s not going the way you want it to, but I try to stay as positive as I can. I’m pretty hard on myself so I’m already looking ahead to trying to prove to myself that I can be an impact player on our team.”

MacKinnon conceded that he was “maybe a little too confident” after his stellar rookie campaign, and that could probably go for his team as a whole. The Avs won the Central Division with 112 points in 2013-14. They regressed badly (some would say predictably), missing the playoffs with just 90 points in 2014-15.

As mentioned, MacKinnon is still just 19 years old. And experience can only be gained through, well, experience.

“Now I know what it’s like to be up and to be down in the NHL so I think that’s something that will be good for me,” he said.

On a final note, it will be interesting to see what position MacKinnon plays next season. Though he was drafted as a center, he’s mostly been a winger in the NHL, typically with Ryan O’Reilly as his center and Gabriel Landeskog as the other winger.

O’Reilly, of course, was traded to Buffalo, replaced in Colorado by Carl Soderberg.

Even if that’s the plan for now, we all know plans can change. MacKinnon has far more upside as a player than Soderberg, and a center can have more impact in all areas of the ice compared to a winger. The challenge for young players like MacKinnon is learning the position, since it comes with more defensive responsibilities.

Related: Soderberg didn’t hesitate in signing with Avs

Liles curious to see if Zadorov will make the Avs next season

Buffalo Sabres v Tampa Bay Lightning
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Former Avalanche d-man John-Michael Liles has been getting an up-close look at new Avalanche d-man Nikita Zadorov.

The two players, along with some other NHLers, have been skating together in the Denver area during the offseason.

Liles, now a 34-year-old member of the Carolina Hurricanes, is curious to see what kind of an impact, if any, Zadorov can make with the Avs next season.

“He’s a big kid, obviously very skilled, skates well,” Liles said of Zadorov, per the Denver Post. “It will be interesting to see because at 20 years old it can be a daunting task to jump in when expectations are high. It’s never easy playing D in this league.”

Zadorov was drafted 16th overall by the Sabres in 2013. He was dealt to Colorado in June as part of the Ryan O’Reilly blockbuster trade.

“We really like the potential of Zadorov,” Avs GM Joe Sakic said after the trade, per NHL.com. “He’s could be a solid, solid [defenseman] for the next 10 years.”

The Avs can afford to be patient with the big blue-liner. Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Tyson Barrie are all 24 years or younger, so it’s not like the clock is ticking loudly on their core.

Zadorov is also waiver exempt, raising the possibility he could be sent to the AHL next season.

Related: Sabres angry that Zadorov keeps showing up late for stuff

Poll: How long will the Kings remain Stanley Cup contenders?

Los Angeles Kings v Toronto Maple Leafs
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All of a sudden the Los Angeles Kings’ roster doesn’t look so young anymore.

Jeff Carter is 30.

Ditto for Dustin Brown.

Jonathan Quick will be 30 in January.

Marian Gaborik is 33.

While pending unrestricted free agents Anze Kopitar and Milan Lucic are still only 27, and Drew Doughty is even younger at 25, studies have shown that the typical NHL player peaks before the age of 30.

Combine the fact that so much of the Kings’ core is signed long term with a prospect group that doesn’t rank very highly and it’s more than fair to ask how long this group has as a Stanley Cup contender.

So, go vote:

Kings’ biggest question: What about Voynov?

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For the Los Angeles Kings, the optics would be doubly terrible if Slava Voynov were ever to play for them again.

Not only would they be allowing a player who spent time in jail for domestic violence to wear their sweater, they’d be allowing it to happen after terminating the contract of Mike Richards, who while reportedly part of a police investigation has still not been charged with anything.

The difference between Voynov and Richards is that the former is an on-ice asset, with a reasonable contract, while the latter became a liability, with a big cap hit and term to go.

There’s already local media pressure on the Kings to cut ties with the 25-year-old Voynov.

“That he’s a top-four defenseman isn’t reason enough to keep him,” wrote Helene Elliott in the Los Angeles Times. “It’s irrelevant. He doesn’t deserve to wear their uniform and they shouldn’t grant him that privilege.”

If the Kings agree with that sentiment — and assuming Voynov isn’t deported or banned by the NHL — they would seem to have two options. One, they could terminate his contract, a la Richards. Two, they could try and trade him. (“Try” being the operative word there, as any team that would pay a price to get Voynov would also have a significant PR challenge with which to deal.)

All that said, it seems the Kings may opt to keep Voynov. According to LA Kings Insider, “the expectation, based on multiple conversations with those in hockey operations, is that he’ll be a part of the blue line when he recovers from a ruptured Achilles.”

If that’s the case, it’ll be because Voynov is a valuable hockey player and the Kings — despite professing things like, “It’s a privilege to be an NHL player, not a right” — can’t afford to miss the playoffs again, bad PR or not.

Last season, L.A.’s blue line was so thin that Drew Doughty often played more than 30 minutes a night. Since then, the Kings haven’t added anyone; they’ve only lost Andrej Sekera (free agency) and Robyn Regehr (retirement).

Related: Dean Lombardi is under pressure

Under Pressure: Dean Lombardi

2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Media Day
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After hoisting their second Stanley Cup in three years, the Los Angeles Kings had their annus horribilis in 2014-15.

First came the arrest of Slava Voynov, who would eventually go to jail for domestic violence and whose future with the team remains unclear. A few months later, Jarret Stoll was arrested in Las Vegas for drug possession. And not long after that, Mike Richards’ contract was terminated, with word that he was part of a police investigation involving oxycodone.

On top of all that, the Kings missed the playoffs by four points.

Upon reflection, GM Dean Lombardi conceded that “clearly we could do more” when it came to educating players about the consequences of their actions.

“The Voynov thing, I walked down to Jeff Solomon’s office and said, ‘This is my fault,'” Lombardi said, per the L.A. Times. “We neglected to educate our players. We missed a big step here in trying to make sure they understand right and wrong and that this has to be reinforced, not only as a human being, as somebody who is representative of the community.”

That message was echoed recently by Kings executive Michael Futa, in an interview with Yahoo Sports.

“I think it’s just re-educating and reminding them how important it is that when you leave the rink that same professionalism you bring to the ice has to stay in tact, no matter what you make or who you are or some of the special treatments you might get,” Futa said. “It’s a privilege to be an NHL player, not a right. And you can’t abuse that privilege.”

But that’s just the off-ice stuff. For Lombardi, the pressure is two-fold. Not only do his players have to stay out of trouble, they have to get back into the playoffs.

“Well, this time there’s no excuse,” Lombardi told NHL.com. “It’s a marvelous opportunity for our top players to take over that room, and they start by doing that, becoming the best they can be, and I think they will. There’s no doubt in my mind what guys like Kopitar and (Jonathan) Quick and (Drew) Doughty stand for, and hopefully this is an awakening. It’s no fun watching the playoffs. In the long run, we could benefit from this.”

Related: Lombardi admits players locked Sutter out, disputes specifics