The offseason has brought lots of buzz around the premier forwards of the Los Angeles Kings. Milan Lucic brings a new dimension to the Kings' top 6, while Anze Kopitar's contract limbo hasn't overshadowed his top-dog status in LA. Tanner Pearson is back from a broken leg. Tyler Toffoli has been everywhere this offseason and is looked to as a replacement for Justin Williams, and Jeff Carter comes off a season in which he led the Kings in scoring for the second time in three seasons. And Dustin Brown is in the best shape of his life, seriously.
Are we missing anyone?
It's amazing that someone can fly under the radar just one season after the most prolific postseason goalscoring performance in five years, but that's what is happening with Marian Gaborik . Until he scored this goal...
Oh just a little preseason goal from the knees courtesy of Mr. Gaborik. http://t.co/ydIMhqCDe9— NHL (@NHL) October 4, 2015
... I barely heard his name during the offseason and preseason. In fairness, there are plenty of reasons why the conversation isn't revolving around Gaborik. His partnership with Anze Kopitar is no longer a novel concept. The other winger (Lucic) has absorbed his spot in every season preview (ours, for instance). Gaborik didn't suffer any catastrophic injuries last year (which would provide a storyline) but he didn't stay perfectly healthy the whole year (which would also provide a storyline).
So what's there to talk about? Maybe we should talk about just how important Gaborik is. Here's why Gaborik could make or break the Kings' season.
- He was one of the best shooters on the team last year and probably will be again. Gaborik's 10.4% shooting percentage at even strength was topped only by Tanner Pearson (with a 17.2%, second among all NHLers with double-digit goals) and The Last Person You'd Expect. (That guy's actually above 10% two years running.) While those two should be in for a drop, Gaborik's only had one season at below 10% since the lockout; an improvement isn't only possible, it's likely. And if you don't believe that, see how many of his goals were from close range.
- The team normally shoots better with him on the ice. Gaborik was third among LA forwards in on-ice shooting percentage, as the team shot 8.8% at even strength while he was out there. (Unsurprisingly, Pearson and Toffoli were 1-2.) That's in contrast to an overall teamwide shooting percentage of 7.6%, LA's best since 2010-11. Gaborik improving team shooting percentages is nothing new, of course, but it's worth reminding ourselves about it once in a while. Any bad luck for Gaborik is bad news.
- Health. "Bad luck for Gaborik" goes beyond his shooting ability, of course. He's been relatively healthy three out of four years. Can it continue?
- Gaborik's chemistry with Lucic is critical. Anze Kopitar can work well with anyone, and has. But are Gabbo and Looch going to be on the same page? Both players are certainly capable of controlling the puck and going to the net, but early returns for the trio are somewhat inconclusive. Darryl Sutter and Anze Kopitar are sold though. If the combo doesn't pay off, Dustin Brown can play on the first line, but Lucic might not be utilized to his full potential and Gaborik might drop off from his NHL-almost-leading 59.2% Corsi.
- Gaborik is the oldest player on the team. He's entering his 15th season at the ripe old age of 33, which makes him the team's elder statesman. This speaks to the durability issue, but more than anything, you have to wonder whether a decline from his 27 goals could be on the cards as he keeps aging. His particular skillset dodges some of the perils of aging, but not all of them.
He's only been in Los Angeles for a year and a half, but a lot of people have already put Marian Gaborik in the back of their mind. He belongs a little further toward the front.