Continuing our series on previewing the 2011/2012 Vancouver Canucks, today we present Ryan Kesler.
What we remember:
Prior to this season, Ryan Kesler, like most Canucks, was criticized for his uneven play in the postseason. With only 3 goals and 14 points in 22 previous playoff games, it’s hard to argue the point. Except this criticism didn’t take into account that he was playing injured through pretty much all of those games.
This past postseason, for the first time in his NHL career, Kesler started the playoffs uninjured and proved to be a big-game player at the time of year when big plays were needed the most. Who can forget him donning his Superman cape and almost single-handedly willing the Canucks past the Nashville Predators in the second round of the playoffs? Who can forget him leaving game 5 of the Western Conference Finals against the Sharks and then returning to tie the game with 13 seconds remaining in the third period?
This after being just the 9th player in Canucks history to score 40 goals in a season. This while finally winning the Selke Trophy for the first time in his career.
What we expect:
It seems like forever ago now since our expectations of Kesler was to be a good, defensive third-line center. Early in his Canucks career, scoring 20 goals and shutting down the opposing teams’ top players would have constituted a successful season.
This is obviously no longer the case.
41 goals in the regular season (plus another 7 goals in the postseason) and back-to-back 70-point seasons says Kesler is a legitimate top-line forward. A Selke Trophy says we expect him to score and be the best defensive player in the game.
With his combination of size, speed, skill and grit, Kesler is perhaps the most complete player to put on a Canucks jersey since Trevor Linden.
After undergoing hip surgery in late July, the Canucks announced this morning that Kesler will not be skating in training camp and will be out indefinitely, and how he performs when he returns will remain a big question mark.
While guys like Cody Hodgson and Marco Sturm are chomping at the bit to step up into top-six roles, losing Kesler is a big blow to the team’s lineup. With him in the lineup, the Canucks have two legitimate scoring lines; without him, opposing teams can unleash Duncan Keith, Shea Weber and all the other top defensemen on the Sedins with little concern for the rest of the lineup. Let’s be honest – as optimistic as we can be, it’s unfair to expect Hodgson, Sturm, or even Samuelsson for that matter to replace everything that Kesler brings to this team, not just his 70 points but his net presence and stellar defensive play as well.
He said it:
“I think our group, especially our core group, we’re motivated. We’re not going to have that hangover. We didn’t win anything. We played that same amount of games [as Cup champion Boston] but we didn’t win anything. We’ve been there but we haven’t done it. We’re a mature enough group. We’re focused. I think that run made us a closer group. We’re going to be fine.”