Weekly Western Leaders (from February 17th through March 1st)

Goals – 7 – Andrew Mangiapane – Calgary

Assists – 7 – J.T. Miller – Vancouver, Connor McDavid – Edmonton, Ryan Ellis – Nashville

Points – 11 – Mark Scheifele – Winnipeg, Kevin Fiala – Minnesota, Mikael Backlund – Calgary, J.T. Miller – Vancouver

PPP – 5 – Duncan Keith – Chicago

Shots on Goal – 33 – Nathan Mackinnon – Colorado

PIM – 15 – Jamie Benn – Dallas

Best plus/minus – plus 9 – Brayden Schenn – St. Louis, Jaden Schwartz – St. Louis, Matthew Tkachuk – Calgary, Andrew Mangiapane – Calgary

Worst plus/minus – minus 11 – Kevin Labanc – San Jose

Hits – 43 – Ryan Reaves – Vegas

Blocked shots – 19 – Alec Martinez – Vegas

FOW – 97 – Anze Kopitar – Los Angeles

FOL – 76 – Eric Staal – Minnesota

Giveaways – 14 – Ryan Getzlaf – Anaheim

Takeaways – 10 – Mikael Backlund – Calgary, William Karlsson -Vegas

Team 5 on 5 SH% (min 3 GP) – 13.84 Tyler Toffoli – Vancouver/Los Angeles

Highest CF% (min 3 GP) – 72.4 – Tyler Bozak – St. Louis

Lowest CF% (min 3 GP) – 32.7 – Christian Fischer – Arizona

Highest PDO (min 3 GP) – 120.1 – Reilly Smith – Vegas

Lowest PDO (min 3 GP) – 72.5 – Patrick Russell – Edmonton

Goalie wins – 6 –Pavel Francouz – Colorado

Save percentage (min 3 starts) – 94.7 – Antti Raanta – Arizona

Quality starts – 6 – Pavel Francouz – Colorado

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to choose three players from each of the Western teams who the franchises are building on, going forward (not including their 2020 draft picks).

Most team's cores will be at center and defence, but there are always exceptions of course. I'd be curious to anyone else's opinion as this was not as easy an exercise as I thought it would be.

Anaheim

When you look at the roster of the Ducks and their prospects, it becomes very obvious, very quickly that this is not a team in very good shape. Most clubs will have at least one player that screams off the page as an obvious choice, but that is not the case in Anaheim. They need a top three pick in the 2020 draft desperately.

Cam Fowler (D) – The team has no choice but to make him a core piece going forward as he is signed until 2025-26 and he holds a modified no-trade clause that allows him to choose four teams he will be dealt to. On most teams he isn't a top pairing d-man.

Trevor Zegras (C) – He is only chosen because the Ducks need him to replace Ryan Getzlaf and be a first line forward in the NHL and he probably has the highest ceiling of any of their prospects. He's had a very good start to his US college career at Boston University in a very tough league. He is still only 18 years of age and doesn't even turn 19 till March 20th, 2020 and there is a chance the Ducks rush him a little and get him to the NHL at the end of this season. That might not be the wisest move.

John Gibson (G) – Much like Fowler the team has committed to Gibson until 2026-27 and he has a no movement clause that goes into effect 2021-22 that will allow him to submit a list of 10 teams he can be dealt to. Gibson has been very consistent since he entered the NHL in 2013-2014 and is having his worst season statistically this year so there is cause for concern. Hopefully for the Ducks, his step backwards is mostly a product of the team in front of him and not a trending decline in his play. 

Average age of core three: 24.33

Arizona

We could almost include Taylor Hall in this conversation, but it is up in the air on whether he will stay in Arizona or not and it's debatable whether he is a player a club should build around at this point.

Clayton Keller (W) – With what appears to be another down year for him, how can Arizona consider Keller a core player? The answer is that I don't think they have a choice and he is still only 21 years old. This is two seasons in a row he has not lived up to expectations of his 65-point rookie season in 2017-18. He is signed at $7.15 million AAV until 2027-28 and they are pot committed now. We will see if the fourth year breakout comes into effect next season.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson (D) – I'm not sure the franchise knows what they want their core to be as they have Ekman-Larsson signed with a full NMC at $8.25 million AAV until 2026-27. At 28 years of age, he is showing some signs of decline in his play and is only on pace for 35 points and it appears that his 20-goal seasons are in the past. Jakob Chychrun is certainly another potential core player but might be fourth on this list.

Barrett Hayton (C) – A surprise pick at 5th overall in the 2018 draft, he has battled injury the past two seasons but looks like a player that will be a top line forward in Arizona (if healthy) in the next two or three seasons. He has the most upside outside of perhaps Keller or Hall.

Average age of core three: 22.67

Calgary

Even though they are struggling a little this year I still think the Flames core three moving forward are the same as they were last season. Elias Lindholm is worthy of inclusion and would be fourth in my mind, which speaks to the strength of the forwards on this roster. There is an organizational need at defence, as Noah Hanifin might not be the solution to take the torch from Mark Giordano and this might explain the acquisition of Erik Gustafsson (if they re-sign him). I think it is safe to say that as these three go, the Flames will go in the next three seasons:

Matthew Tkachuk (W) – Canuck fans still regret not picking Tkachuk with the fifth overall pick in 2016, but their loss is Calgary's gain. He is the heart and soul of the franchise now and can turn a game around on his own. He might lack the ability to score from outside the hash marks, but more than makes up for it around the net.

Sean Monahan (C) – He is having a down year and is on pace for 56 points now, and only 12 points in his past 23 games. When he is on his game, he is a point per game center that is defensively responsible. Not that common an asset.

Johnny Gaudreau (W) – I had noted at the end of last season that Gaudreau led the league in giveaways but it was ok if he had 99 points each year. Well this season he is on pace for 69 points and those giveaways are a little more damaging to the team, but to be fair he has reduced the number from last season. At the same time, if this team is going to have any success in the playoffs they will need his offensive magic.

Average age of core three: 24.33

Chicago

With Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews under contract till 2022-23 at $10.5 million AAV, you have to still consider them the core of this team for at least another season or two. The defence is in transition from both Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to Adam Boqvist and they will need to find a goalie of the future soon enough.

Patrick Kane (W) – He is hoping for back to back 100-point seasons for the first time in his career, at the age of 31. He is the core for the next three seasons.

Jonathan Toews (C) – He had a horrible start this season but has 25 points in his past 22 games and is on pace for over 70 points. I'm sure the hope is to have Kirby Dach supplant him as the number one center, but his are large shoes to fill and it will be his spot for at least a year or two.

Kirby Dach (C) – The heir apparent to Toews, his development will be crucial to the Blackhawks getting back to their winning ways in two or three seasons. Just recently 19 years old, he has had some growing pains for sure in his rookie season, but is starting to look very much like an NHL player on the ice in recent games.

Average age of core three: 27.0

Colorado

If healthy Colorado should start challenging for the Stanley Cup this season and for the next four seasons at least. They boast about eight or nine players or prospects that are ahead of Anaheim's top three.

Nathan MacKinnon (C) – It's hard to believe that this might be his first 100 point season after years of 97 and 99 points before. Number two on most people's list of forwards in the NHL, he is a player 31 teams would build around.

Cale Makar (D) – He has exceeded expectations (which were very high) in his rookie year and is on pace for 62 points. He and Hughes are the prototype that teams will build around on the back end going forward. They have both been revelations, in the fact that they have provided offence and played much better defence than previously given credit for.

Mikko Rantanen (W) – He has battled injury this season but has still managed almost a point-per-game in the 42 games he has played. He will be a welcome addition to the lineup when he returns from his latest upper body injury.

Average age of core three: 22.33

Dallas

This team will ride the backs of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin for the foreseeable future as they are signed to hefty contracts until 2024-25 for Benn and 2026-27 for Seguin. Since they are no longer playing at a level comparable to their contracts, this is not necessarily a good thing for the Stars going forward.

Jamie Benn (W) – His TOI has diminished for the second season in a row from almost 20 minutes per game to just over 16 minutes per game currently. He is no longer the 80-point player he was, which is highly concerning with five years left on his deal.

Tyler Seguin (C) – He is on pace for 63 points, which would be his lowest total since being in Dallas (2013-2014) and he is producing a lot of shots (234) but his shooting percentage (7.3) is lower than where it usually is. His goals and point totals should improve in the last quarter of the season.

Miro Heiskanen (D) – One of the best kept secrets in the NHL, he will eventually supplant John Klingberg and be the quarterback on the first unit of the power play in the next year or two. He is right up there with Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes and Rasmus Dahlin as one of the best defencemen in the NHL under 21 and quite possibly the best of those four.

Average age of core three: 26.0

Edmonton

A no-brainer with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but which Oiler should complete the triangle? Draisaitl is locked up till 2024-25 and McDavid till 2025-26 so the Oilers window is still open. I think the team will need to focus on the back end and build from there and perhaps Evan Bouchard or Philip Broberg are the future to quarterback the power play. As impressive as Kailer Yamamoto has been in 21 games, his production should come down as his PDO (105.6), his shooting percentage (25.6) and team 5 on 5 shooting percentage (12.4) are all very high. He is out three to four weeks with an ankle injury.

Connor McDavid (C) – The best player in the game right now and the Oilers are fortunate to have him locked up till 2025-26. He has put up eight points in the four games since he has come back from his most recent injury. Oiler fans must be relieved to have him back.

Leon Draisaitl (W) – The leading scorer in the NHL this season at 102 points has his detractors and he has spawned his own statistical category (DHT). He might not be the best-rounded forward in the game but he can certainly put up the points and in a league where forwards are given $5 or 6 million AAV contracts on a regular basis, Draisaitl looks like a bargain to me.

Evan Bouchard (D) – It is a lot of pressure to put on the 20-year old 10th overall pick in 2018, but the Oilers need him to develop into what they drafted him to be. A top two offensive defenceman who will make McDavid and Draisaitl better. He will get his chance next season.

Average age of core three: 22.33

Los Angeles

The Kings boast five second round draft picks in the next two years and will continue to build up their prospects pool, but will it be in time for two of their current core pieces in Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty? I don't see a clear cut core three for the Kings at this point in time as we need to see Gabriel Vilardi play healthy for an extended length of time and Alex Turcotte might be a few years away.

Anze Kopitar (C) – He can still be a dominant center, but just not as often as he used to be as the combination of age and lack of supporting cast are not helping. At 32-years of age he is signed at $10 million AAV until 2023-24 with a modified NTC that he can list seven teams to be traded to (goes into effect next season).

Drew Doughty (D) – I was curious what the Kings were planning when they re-signed Doughty to an eight year contract for $11 million AAV that began this season. They decided that they were going to build around a 28-year old defenceman (now 30), who was coming off a career high 60 points in 2017-2018. They now have him locked up until 2025-26 with little supporting cast outside of aging Kopitar.

Alex Turcotte (C) – At only 19 years of age and not dominating the NCAA, it is unlikely that the 5th overall pick in 2019 will make the jump to the NHL before 2021-2022. When he does, he and Vilardi will be the hope of the organization to bridge to the next group of top line players.  

Average age of core three: 27.00

Next week we will look at the remaining western conference teams and pin down their core three players.

Thanks for reading and if you have any comments or suggestions, please let me know below and/or follow me on Twitter @gampbler15.