(Reuters) - Five teams to watch in the 2012-13 National Hockey League season:
Kings defeated the Western Conference’s top three seeds in the playoffs before dumping the New Jersey Devils in the final round to become the first eighth-seeded team to win the NHL’s Stanley Cup championship.
The Kings will open the condensed season with their full playoff roster from last season intact and are widely considered to be one of the deepest teams in the league with four offensive lines capable of taking over the scoring responsibilities.
Los Angeles took many teams by surprise last year with their playoff run but will not be overlooked this season as they look to become the first NHL champions to repeat since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998.
The Penguins, a perennial Eastern Conference powerhouse led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, return with much of the same roster intact, assuaging any fears of what impact the four-month long lockout could have on team chemistry.
Malkin spent the lockout racking up goals and assists in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League while Crosby, who missed most of the last two seasons with post-concussion symptoms, opted to lead his own workouts with team mates at home.
Crosby also signed a 12-year contract with the Penguins in the offseason, a clear sign of the team’s confidence that their franchise player has overcome the concussion issues that plagued him in recent years.
One of the teams favored to represent the NHL’s Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup finals, the Rangers are anchored in goal by Henrik Lundqvist, a talented young defensive corps and a potent offense led by Brad Richards and Marion Gaborik.
The Rangers finished second overall in the NHL last season before squandering home-ice advantage and falling to the New Jersey Devils in the conference final.
Bolstered their lineup in the offseason by trading for Rick Nash, a five-time All-Star forward who has recorded 30 or more goals in seven of his nine seasons with the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets.
Surprised many experts with last season’s rise to the upper echelon of the Western Conference with a 109-point campaign, 22 points above their total from the previous campaign, to enter the playoffs as the second seed.
Blues lost to the Kings in the second round of the playoffs and will be eager to prove last season was no fluke.
The return of Jaroslav Halak will be expected to give the Blues an edge over many other teams while captain David Backes will once again be counted on to lead the offensive through a busy schedule.
Made the biggest offseason splash by signing marquee free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 13-year contracts that transformed the struggling franchise from a bottom-10 team into a potential playoff qualifier overnight.
Parise, who captained the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup final last year, and Suter, a defenseman who had a career-high 46 points with the Nashville Predators last season, were both members of the 2010 silver medal-winning U.S. Olympic team.
The Wild have not made the playoffs since 2008 and finished 12th in the 15-team Western Conference last season but will be hoping to take advantage of competing in a division that produced just one playoff team last season.
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Julian Linden