Ryan Kesler: Wingman or Centre?

Where does #17 fit better?

A funny thing happened when John Tortorella paired Ryan Kesler with Henrik Sedin – he might have found the scoring winger the Canucks have lacked for years.

Only it’s been hidden in the team’s usual second line centre.

After a brutal start to the season, Kesler has come alive since being paired with Henrik. He’s getting offensive chances galore and is a smart enough player to know where to go when Henrik is setting things up in the offensive zone.

Sure, it makes Mike Santorelli the second line centre for the Canucks (yikes) but for now I think the risk has paid off. The Canucks need offense and Henrik is the perfect guy to wake Kesler up.

The big issue is that putting Kesler on the wing takes away one of the Canucks better face off men and likely the team’s most defensively responsible forward. Here are a few pros and cons for #17 lining up on the wing.

Super Line

Back in the day, it was always fun to watch Colorado load up Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg on the same line when they needed a goal. More recently, Chicago has used Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews together when they require a spark.

It’s a tactic that Alain Vigneault never would have used and it’s paid off for Vancouver so far. I like seeing all that firepower on the ice at once, especially if the team is trailing.

#17 can focus on offense

For as good as Kesler is defensively, he’s got great offensive sense and can score if given the opportunities. Guys like David Booth and Chris Higgins aren’t exactly the best at setting guys up and we all remember Vigneault bitching last year about how Kesler needs to use his wingers more.

Quite frankly, the guy doesn’t use his wingers a whole lot and this gives him the chance to simply be open and Henrik will find him.

Give other players opportunities

It might be a little disturbing to have Santorelli as any team’s second line centre but he’s proven himself early on. Giving ice time to guys like Zack Kassian, Jordan Schroeder and Santorelli is the perfect chance for Torts to see what he’s got.

It’ll also give Daniel Sedin the chance to develop chemistry with someone without the same last name. With this being a contract year, the Canucks need to see what they have with Daniel. Henrik has really passed him in the last two years and if you only have to pick one brother – he’s the obvious choice.

Ryan Kesler

Moving from Kesler to Santorelli defensively is a huge jump down

Daniel has the talent to work with other player but it should be interesting to see how he does on his own.

Onto the negative side…

Face-off/Defensive downgrades

Moving from Kesler to Santorelli defensively is a huge jump down and you don’t want to lose his face-off ability. Sure, if Henrik gets tossed you have Kesler there to fill right in during a close game but it’s still a big loss. Defensive zone coverage is another big skill that Kesler provides.

For as good as he is offensively, he also knows where to be in his own end. The only thing is it seems like he sometimes cares about the defensive side too much and his offensive game suffers.

Kesler/Burrows should be reunited

Another reason why the Kesler/Henrik combo works so well is that Alexandre Burrows is still out. I still think Kesler and Burrows are great together and come playoff time they should once again be paired up. Burrows is a guy that can push the pace offensively and get Kesler thinking about putting goals on the board.

Plus, they’re super irritating together.

Team scoring depth

Stacking a line can be pretty risky, especially on the road. Sure, it looks great against teams like Buffalo or Philly but try that against an elite team and the Canucks risk getting locked down. Spreading out the talent against top teams is an adjustment that I think Torts can make though.

Here are the lines I like (when everyone is healthy):

  • Sedin-Sedin-Kassian
  • Kesler-Burrows-Higgins
  • Santorelli-Hansen-Booth
  • Schroeder-Richardson-Sestito

For right now, it makes perfect sense to play Kesler at wing and see what happens – you never know.

But long term, if everyone is healthy, he is the ideal second line centre – especially come playoff time.


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About Ben Lypka

Straight outta South Central Delta, BC, Ben's been a sports nut for as long as he can remember. With experience covering the Olympic Games and reporting on sporting events in BC and Alberta, he hopes to bring a unique perspective to the NWSB! You can catch him on twitter too! Connect with Ben today!
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