Ryan Kesler came to training camp completely healthy; Ryan Kesler was going to be leaned on heavily by new head coach John Tortorella; could Ryan Kesler revert back to his Selke Trophy-winning form of 2010-11?
Just a sample of the storylines surrounding the Vancouver Canucks speedy and fiery forward not long ago considered one of the premier two-way players in the game, before injuries – hip, shoulder, wrist, foot – and surgeries disrupted each of his previous two seasons following the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
On Tuesday, like the consistency of gravity against this particular opponent, Kesler was the dominant force behind the Canucks 3-1 victory over the Nashville Predators. Beast mode engaged.
He scored twice in the third period, and was in dogged pursuit of the puck throughout the evening – a physical menace against a Nashville defence minus tower of strength Shea Weber and Kevin Klein.
You’ll recall in the second round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, against the Predators, Kesler willed his team to the Western Conference final with five goals and 11 points in that six-game series.
That still stands as the pinnacle of his time in Vancouver. It followed another productive regular season in which he scored 41 goals and 73 points to earn the Selke.
However, the injuries have since piled up, and mostly because of that it was speculated the now 29-year-old Kesler might never reach that same level. He could be a steady offensive producer, but never to the extent of that 2010-11 season, when the Canucks came within one win of their first Stanley Cup.
Yet here the Canucks are, 30 games into this season.
Kesler has suited up in every single game and leads the team in goals with 14. Four of those have come in the last two games; five of those have come on the power play; and four of those have been game winners.
He also leads all Vancouver forwards in ice time, at just over 22 minutes per game. Validation of both the importance of health and of what Tortorella pressed upon everyone basically since he was hired, and that is he’ll push his top players, Kesler included.
Kesler’s mind and body have responded. The results, through 30 games, are there.
He’s played wing on a loaded line with the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, and while that unit was long ago split up at five-on-five, it remains intact on the first unit power play.
He’s played wing and centre on a line with Chris Higgins and Mike Santorelli, all the while accepting a greater work load from Tortorella.
A quick calculation shows Kesler is now on pace for 38 goals, which would fall just shy of his career best from 2010-11. That’s simply a projection, which can change instantly in a game like hockey.
It should be noted he’s experienced scoring droughts of four and seven games without a goal as well this season. Remaining as healthy as possible plays a roll in his production, too.
But perhaps his latest body of work is an encouraging sign of things to come for No. 17, and the team, as it continues to try and move up the Pacific Division standings.
It may sound cliché, but Tortorella summed it up perfectly to reporters in Nashville, as per a video on the team’s website: “It’s the only way to win. If you want to win consistently in this league, your best players have to be your best players.”
EDLER INJURY UPDATE
Alex Edler is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, Tortorella told reporters in Nashville.
Television replays showed Edler struggling with his skating stride after bumping into a Predators player in the first period. He did not return to the ice for the second period. In 27 games for the Canucks this season, he’s emerged as the team leader in ice time, with 23:26 of ice time per game.
CANUCKS SIGN CASSELS
The Canucks announced Wednesday that they signed 2013 draft pick Cole Cassels to an entry-level contract.
Cassels, a centre with the Oshawa Generals in the Ontario Hockey League, was selected in the third round, 85th overall. He is the son of former Canucks’ centre Andrew Cassels.
In 24 games with the Generals this season, Cassels has 12 goals and 28 points in 24 games.