Ryan Kesler is the one player that Canucks fans prayed and hoped could show half of the skill that he displayed in his remarkable 2011 season. He has exceeded all expectations with his exceptional play so far. This is the amazing comeback of Ryan Kesler.
Heading into the 2013 regular season, everyone doubted Kesler. “He’s breaking down,” “He’ll never be the same” and “2011 is a fantasy he will never experience again.”
These were just a few of many phrases constantly thrown around by media, fans and analysts. However, this season he has defied all odds – he has been the player that all Canucks fans drooled over in the 2011 season.
He was a Selke Award winner and a premier sniper with 41 goals. After two disappointing seasons filled with injuries, we have definitely seen more than glimpses of the form he had in 2011. Sure, he hasn’t been exactly produced the same numbers, but he has provided a great base to build upon to continue his growth in becoming a better player.
Two years of frustration. Two years of injuries. Two years of underwhelming performance. These simple sentences all sum up the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons for the Canucks star. These poor results were by no means Kesler’s fault, as he just struggled to stay healthy.
Everybody knew something was terribly wrong in Game 5 of the 2011 Western Conference Finals. Kesler had been chasing a Sharks defensemen, when it looked like he strained something bad.
After a disappointing Finals where Kesler could only muster a single point, the worst had been announced. The gritty centre was to undergo surgery to repair his left hip, the same one he had injured against the Sharks in Game 5.
Kesler’s 2011-12 season wasn’t bad, but there was definitely a huge drop in production. Going from 73 points and, most importantly, a top class 41 goals to a modest 49 points and 22 goals was something Canucks fans didn’t really expect.
However, it was not the difference in stats, it was the difference in little things that we all noticed. Kesler wasn’t the same beast he was, and all year long he just struggled to find his rhythm. He didn’t display the same mentally either, he was no longer that confident, steady player with an edge.
He seemed to be more conservative, he didn’t play with the same fire that he had, the same fire that allowed him to snipe an exceptional 41 goals.
In the playoffs he just seemed to disappear like the other Canucks players, as they fell to the 8th seed LA Kings, who would go on to complete the Cinderella story by winning the Stanley Cup. Part of the reason for Kesler’s sharp decline in production in the 2011-12 campaign can be attributed to the torn labrum he suffered, an injury that would be revealed in May.
Just as fans and media were recovering from the shocking upset, the Canucks would announce that Kesler would once again undergo surgery, this time to repair his shoulder. This injury was more serious than his hip injury, and the expected recovery time was six months, which would allow for a mid-November return at the earliest.
With a potential lockout in the NHL looming, fans thought that there might be a chance for Kesler to return and play in the opener, if the start of the season would be delayed. Canucks fans were wrong in this assumption as well, even though the start of the regular season was pushed back all the way to January.
Kesler’s rehab and return date were significantly pushed back, as he would suffer a wrist injury that, coupled with his sore shoulder, would push his target return date back from mid-November all the way to February 15, where he would make his season debut in the lockout-shortened year. After a promising start to the year that included 13 points in 17 games, he would receive a dagger. A broken foot would now sideline him for an additional 19 games.
The 2013 playoffs were supposed to once again be a journey for Canucks fans. Kesler was once again absent, much like the other top guns for the Canucks, and could not carry the team like he did in the remarkable 2nd round series against the Predators in 2011.
Despite the many calls for change, there were few trades made by GM Mike Gillis to improve the team heading into the 2013-14 season. The Canucks were to roll out a relatively unchanged team from the 2012-13 season. This obviously meant that Gillis still believed in the same core that he had in 2011.
He would rely on the likes of the Sedins and Kesler to once again try and lead the team to glory. This year, Kesler has pounced on the opportunity for a do-over and has not disappointed.
With the hiring of Torts, many fans knew that the club’s top players would play often, guys like the Sedins and Kesler would be given minutes of up to 25 minutes a night.
This was even more evident when he gave Kesler, a fellow American, a shot on the top line, with the Sedins. This was an instant success, as Kesler started to light the lamp at a rapid pace once again. However, he would eventually be moved back to the 2nd line with the return of Alex Burrows.
Kesler has stayed on the 2nd line, playing on a line with speedster Mike Santorelli, and steady forward Chris Higgins. Currently, he is on pace for 31 goals and 56 points, two decent figures.
His production has dipped recently, which has brought his stats back to earth, but it his most notably his play style, not production that has been the big difference.
He has played with an edge once more, he has been threatening offensively, and has shown confidence again.
But the two biggest differences seen in his play are very simple: Kesler has put in that extra ounce of effort on every shift to score, and has been a player that has been dangerous, even when he hasn’t been producing. At times before, he would disappear for periods at a time, but now Kesler has made his presence known whenever he is on the ice.
The future looks very bright for Ryan Kesler, if he can manage to stay healthy. He might not return to his 2011 form this year, but 41 goals and 73 points is something that Kesler will definitely aim for in the years to come.
One thing that could really help Kesler would be the acquisition of a premier 2nd line playmaking centre in the future. This would allow him the opportunity to play with the twins, as he is a player that could fill in the spot of top line winger.