The bar is set pretty high for Ryan Kesler.
Following off-season surgeries on his shoulder and wrist, the 28-year-old from the Detroit suburb of Livonia rehabilitated throughout the summer and the NHL lockout and finally returned to the Vancouver Canucks’ lineup on Feb. 15. And while it is clear that he is not yet back to performing at his customary level, he has still impressed, scoring one goal and four points through his first six games.
For most players, those numbers would qualify as a solid start, but for Kesler, it signals he still has plenty of room for improvement.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Kesler, who also recorded a minus-4 plus/minus rating. “Obviously, every game it’s feeling better for me. I think someone told me I went like 300 days between games — not being able to skate, be in physical contact for that long, so it’s been tough, but the guys around me have been really supportive. It’s a learning curve.”
"He’s coming along,” added Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “It took a lot of our veteran players about nine to 10 games to find their game. Ryan’s worked extremely hard, and we’re going to give him time to find his game like we gave everybody else the time.”
But even adding a not-quite-100-percent Kesler has been beneficial to the Northwest Division-leading Canucks.
“He’s a big piece of their team, that’s for sure,” said Dallas Stars defenseman Aaron Rome, who spent the previous three seasons as Kesler’s teammate in Vancouver. “They have other big pieces over there, but he just adds another dimension to their team. He’s big, strong, he’s fast, he can score. He has an unbelievable net-front presence and a right-handed shot on their power play, so when they add a guy like that, it just makes it so much tougher.”
Further demonstrating Kesler’s all-around positive impact is the fact that the center has won an impressive 55.6 percent of his face-offs so far this season (going 64-51). That should come as no surprise, considering Kesler finished in the NHL’s top 25 for each of the previous five seasons, with a high of seventh in 2010-11 at 57.4 percent. Also, despite the physical ailments he’s overcoming, the 6-foot-2, 202-pound Kesler has delivered nine hits and blocked seven shots.
But Kesler’s influence on the Canucks goes beyond mere statistics. Now in his ninth NHL season since Vancouver drafted him in the first round (23rd overall) in 2003, Kesler has grown into a respected team leader.
“I think everyone knows what kind of leader he is,” said Canucks forward David Booth, who has played with and against Kesler since the two were kids in the Detroit area, including two seasons as teammates with the U.S. National Team Development Program. “He just brings his personality into it, and I think the best leaders do that — they’re just who they are. He doesn’t try to be somebody he’s not, and I think that’s what makes him a good leader, just being himself.”
Kesler himself points out that he learned what makes an effective leader by observing several former Canuck luminaries during his earlier years.
“I think you learn from leaders before you. Coming into the league, we had a great captain in Markus Nasland, we had Trevor Linden, we had Brendan Morrison and really for me, I didn’t say much,” said Kesler, who spent the 2002-03 season at Ohio State University before turning pro. “I just sat back and watched, and you learn and you see how those guys act day-in and day-out. It was a learning curve for me, but as you get more comfortable and your role grows, you become a little more comfortable as a leader.”
A five-time 20-goal scorer, Kesler’s track record as a winner proves that his methods are working. In addition to being a key member of the first American team to win the gold medal at the World Junior Championships in 2004, Kesler has helped the Canucks win two President’s Trophies and advance to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals by contributing seven goals and 19 points in 25 playoff games.
But it was his experience helping the U.S. win silver at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games that stands out as the biggest highlight. That only makes him look forward more to the possibility of doing it again in 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
“It was amazing, being in Vancouver, the place where I play, having my family, like 17 people there and the experience they got to have because they could afford it and experience it with me,” said Kesler, who scored two goals in six Olympic contests in 2010. “Just being in the Olympics was an unbelievable feeling. Obviously, you’re hopeful [about playing in Sochi]. I want to play; everybody wants to play in that. It’s a special time of year — two weeks and the best team wins.”
A full year before that epic confrontation unfolds in Sochi, Kesler continues to edge back towards the high standards he’s already established.
“My game’s coming around,” Kesler said. “I’ve felt glimpses like I was coming into my own again. Obviously, you got to do it shift after shift, but I think consistency and just feeling comfortable out there is good.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Tag(s): Player Features