canucks

Canucks: How will Ryan Kesler’s early-season absence impact Vancouver?

Canucks Update: Ryan Kesler

The hype machine is set to start for Vancouver soon. This time, Canucks fans say, the team will win 16 playoff games, not 15, and finally capture the Stanley Cup.

With Cory Schneider emerging as more than just a regular backup, the team is guaranteed stellar goaltending even if Roberto Luongo falters. The Sedins are in their prime and riding consecutive scoring titles. Manny Malhotra is recovered from his horrific eye injury.

All those factors are encouraging, but one question not being asked enough during training camp is: what about Ryan Kesler?

The reigning Selke Trophy winner as the league’s best defensive forward and 41-goal scorer won’t open the season in the starting lineup. After offseason hip surgery, Kesler could miss up to the first month of the 2011-12 season. What will his absence mean for the Canucks?

Ryan Kesler Vancouver Canucks

The pessimistic viewpoint: a lot. Not only is Kesler a key source of secondary scoring (well, more like primary based on his goal total last year), he’s usually charged with shutting down opposing teams’ best players.

The optimistic viewpoint: not as much as people think. The Canucks tend to start seasons slowly anyway. They still won the Presidents’ Trophy last year despite a slow start and despite the fact that Alex Burrows missed the first 10 games of the regular season after an offseason surgery of his own.

Optimists also believe youngster Cody Hodgson will step in to fill Kesler’s void as the No. 2 center and greatly benefit from the increased ice time.

I lean more toward the pessimist side. We can’t compare Kesler’s absence to Burrows’. The latter is a key contributor but no one can match Kesler’s defensive prowess among the forward corps (aside from Malhotra, but he can’t score like Kesler can).

While Hodgson’s expanded role is exciting, there’s no guarantee that he’ll become an instant star or that his chronic back woes won’t resurface.

Don’t be surprised if the Canucks stumble out of the gate, even more so than last season.

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