Kesler: Ascension


Trivia question:  When was the last time the Vancouver Canucks had two of the top 5 goalscorers in the NHL?

Answer:  2002/03   Markus Naslund leads the Canucks with 48 goals, closely followed by Todd Bertuzzi with 46 goals.  Currently, Daniel Sedin sits third with 27 goals, and Ryan Kesler’s 25 have him tied with Chicago’s Patrick Sharp for fourth.

Part of the storyline that fascinates me, if we continue the Naslund/Bertuzzi comparison, are the different player profiles.  Almost everything about the way these Canuck goalscorers evolved is different.  Yet, there are undeniable similarities for the goalscorers named.  Whereas Naslund and Bertuzzi formed part of the ‘West Coast Express’, Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler have only started to play together, almost strictly on the power play.  Even with Alex Burrows on the mend from shoulder surgery to start the season, head coach Alain Vigneault opted to use others in combination with twins Daniel and Henrik.

Opinions will vary on the following train of thought, but again, it’s the differences that add intrigue.  Markus Naslund and Daniel Sedin draw correlations outside of being Swedes.  Their torrid goalscoring pace and ability naturally puts them in elite company, and for lack of a better term, let’s deem them snipers.    Todd Bertuzzi, at the height of his NHL success was a dominating power forward.  The Sudbury, Ontario native was as feared for his powerful drives to the net as he was his soft hands in alone on goaltenders.  So, that leaves Ryan Kesler.  How do we classify what he is?

The difficulty defining him is that he is still evolving.  Early in his career, many had Kesler pegged as a perpetual checker, a career third line grinder.  Little did they know that there were several other faces yet to be revealed.   This is where the story of Bertuzzi and Kesler run parallel for awhile.  Both players were drafted in the first round, exactly at the same position (23rd overall) and exactly 10 years apart.  The New York Islanders grew impatient with Bertuzzi’s rate of development

and he was packaged with Bryan McCabe and a 3rd round pick (Jarkko Ruutu) in the infamous Trevor Linden deal.   Kesler was drafted by the Canucks in 2003 (1st round, 23rd overall) and took a more linear route from the Canucks farm club, the Manitoba Moose.  But, just like Bertuzzi, five years after being drafted, really hit his offensive stride.  In 1999/00, Bertuzzi hit the 50 point plateau with 25 goals, 25 assists.  In 2008/09, Kesler accumulated 59 points with 26 goals, 33 assists.  But prior to his breakout campaign, Bertuzzi wasn’t recognized for any particular aspect in his game.

With his very savvy defensive intuition and elite two way ability, Ryan Kesler is an annual threat to win the Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) award.  This season, there are rumblings that his name could be added to the Hart Trophy nominees list.  Herein lies the difficulty to put a stamp on his game or title.  Were Kesler to be nominated, let alone win, it would put him into some distinguished company.  It also makes me wonder if he has any other transformations yet to be revealed.  Whatever transpires, he’s simply the most complete player the Vancouver Canucks have ever drafted.  Whether he wins hardware at the end of the season or not, his value to the team has become immeasurable.  Some hockey analysts are referencing Kesler as the “Soul of the team”, a moniker not undeserved by this inspiring, gifted young star.

The Kicker:  2002/03 – Todd Bertuzzi’s career season (46 goals, 51 assists – 97 pts) helped the Canucks finish near the top of the NHL.  This lands them the 23rd overall pick, which would be used to call Kesler’s name.  For once, the draft hockey gods smile upon the Canucks and their late first pick, giving hockey one of it’s deepest drafts ever.