The Value of Ryan Kesler
The first road trip of the season is now complete for the Canucks and, despite it still being early days yet, a great deal was revealed.
It has been a middling start as the team adjusts to reduced pre-season responsibilities and some personnel movement. The Vancouver Canucks were unable to produce the first goal of any game until their fifth contest, and even then they have had to come from behind each time to hope for any type of result.
The goaltending has also been particularly uneven between both candidates. However, it is well known that the Canucks are not great out of the gate, and there are plenty of positives to highlight. Initial season observations:
The Sedins continue to shine, Burrows looks ready to accept more responsibility on the power play, Sami Salo could again be the tonic for an inconsistent power play in the absence of Ehrhoff, and Chris Higgins has been great overall.
There are several concerns to be sure, most noticeably in defensive coverage. But for this team to completely get into gear, they vitally need to reinstall their key part, Ryan Kesler.
The Selke trophy is supposed to be awarded to the best purely defensive player in the league, but it rarely goes to a skater who is relatively deficient in the offensive aspect of the game.
When Kesler added 41 goals to his resume last season, along with his many faceoff wins and blocked shots, that recognition helped push his candidacy past Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings and earned him the silverware he coveted.
The Michigan native has become a key part of the offence, but it is most definitely his defensive awareness, rather than the goals, cheeky soundbites, intrusion into teammate interviews, or unnecessary nudity that make him the real heart of the Canucks.
Vancouver has struggled in the early stages of the campaign with the movement of other teams as they break out from their zone, through neutral ice towards Luongo and Schneider. The Canucks forwards have done a poor job this year picking up the opposing frontline.
This leads to easy access for other offences as they cross the blue line into the Canucks defensive zone. The backline gets overwhelmed without the assistance of the Vancouver forecheckers, and the number of chances created by the opposition forwards, coupled with a rash of Vancouver penalties, has led to a higher goals against total.
This is where Kesler has been so effective in the past.
His speed and stamina enable him to get in deep on opposing teams early in their zone throughout the length of games, so he can disrupt those passing and skating lanes quickly.
Thus, time is afforded to the rest of the Canucks forwards and defence to establish position to pick off pucks and to use their possession game to bring heavy pressure to bear against the other side.
The fact that his off-season surgery and recovery has taken so long, in relation to the current team’s indifferent performance, are testament to the notion that his healthy status is so crucial for this team.
Had Kesler’s hip been 100% healthy in the final round, there might well have been another team in custody of the cup right now. But with a new year, and the window of opportunity still well open, it is time to think about moving forward.
Perhaps there is a silver lining to this situation right now.
Kesler’s absence to date can actually be seen as beneficial in that it may permit the serendipitous opportunity for other players to develop. This is challenge that Chris Higgins has evidently taken up.
His play in the first five games shows the type of all-round effort that Kesler commits himself to every night.
In that sense, the chance for other players to contribute and grow can only enhance Vancouver’s chances.
All I wanted for Christmas was for Kesler to get well real soon.
I guess I’ve been good this year because as I was finishing off this piece news broke that Kesler will indeed return for the Canucks on Tuesday versus the New York Rangers.
Thanks Santa! Thank you so very much!