It’s been a long time since Healthy Ryan Kesler meshed with Defiant Ryan Kesler but it happened Wednesday, as the Vancouver Canucks opened training camp.
The fiery centre hasn’t been at full health for the start of training camp in each of the past two seasons, recovering from hip surgery in 2011-12 and shoulder and wrist surgeries that held him out at the start of lockout-shortened 2013 campaign.
That has taken a toll on his offensive production, which hit a peak three seasons ago when he scored a career-high 41 goals and was the NHL’s Selke Trophy winner.
Injury-free, can he now revert back to that form? It shouldn’t come as any surprise that he believes he can.
“I’m confident I can do that and more,” Kesler told reporters Wednesday morning.
“Every player goes into a season thinking it’s going to be another career year and you’re going to play your best, but sometimes injuries happen and you just don’t play your best.”
And he thinks the Canucks, with back-to-back first-round playoff exits after making it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, will prove a thing or two to their steadfast critics when this season is done.
“This year, I’m thinking it’s going to be a career year and I’m thinking it’s going to be a great year, not just for me but for the whole team,” he said.
“All those doubters out there, we’re going to make them eat their words.”
That remains to be seen.
Clearly the competitive fire remains with the 29-year-old Kesler.
He won the Canucks’ fishing derby this weekend in Haida Gwaii, and although he wasn’t outspoken about it, the grin on his face suggested he took pride in catching the 36-pound salmon.
(Alex Edler had a fish on the line and had been battling it for over an hour, as his teammates circled the boats to watch, but finished a close second behind Kesler, according to Dan Hamhuis.)
On the ice, where he makes $5 million a season as the Canucks second-line centre, it’s that same edge that has made him one of the best two-way centres in the game in recent years.
But remaining healthy has been the issue.
It’s been debated that his all-out style of play has led to his numerous spells on the injured list.
“I think everyone in here knows I’m an emotional guy and I play my best when emotions are high and kicking in,” he said.
“But that’s when you get injured. I did a lot of time this off-season just working and getting my body to where it needs to be so I don’t need to be so emotional out there and just my play my game and be successful that way.”
Kesler and Henrik Sedin are a lock as the top two centres on the team. That’s not in doubt so long as they’re both healthy.
It’s on the third and fourth lines where jobs up the middle are also up for grabs. With that in mind, the already sizable burden on Kesler may grow.
“I’m going to ask for more out of him. I know there’s more there. I’ve seen it,” said head coach John Tortorella.
“I always tell players, when you see it one time, you’re in trouble because you know it’s there. It’s getting it consistently now.
“I think (Kesler) is looking for that challenge. I think he’s looking to carry people with him. I think he’s looking to bring it to another level.”
The dynamic of how Kesler and Tortorella – men with emotional personalities – get along will also be of considerable interest for observers as the season progresses.
Tortorella’s past public criticisms of some former players has been well documented. Kesler, in the past, hasn’t always taken well to public criticism.
“We’re pushing in the same direction. We want the same goal. At the end of the day, we want to win,” said Kesler.
“He’s probably going to have some days where I don’t play my best and he’s going to say something. That’s what I want. I want to be told what I’m doing right, what I’m doing wrong and he’s going to communicate it.”