Raymond Kirk: Kesler the key to long term success, despite two losses since his return.
The record may only be 0-1-1 in the two games since Ryan Kesler made his much anticipated 2013 Vancouver Canucks debut, coming off of shoulder and wrist injuries, yet the effect he has already had and will continue to make is significant to the Canucks and their aspirations of chasing Lord Stanley this spring.
There may be a lot of talk about the Sedin twins, the depth of goaltending, the offense from defence, overall team depth, but in my opinion, a healthy Ryan Kesler is the piece that makes the whole puzzle work. You need to look no further than the 2011 playoffs, when Kesler all but took the team on his back for long stretches in Round 2 against the Nashville Predators, and Round 3 against the San Jose Sharks before he was injured yet again, and was not the same force because of it in the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins. Kesler, when healthy, is arguably one of the very best two-way players in the NHL, and could very well have added a Conn Smythe trophy to his Selke award. He is the heart and soul of the hockey team when healthy and on his game, and after only two games, his presence has been significant, in helping make a listless powerplay not only effective, but looking dangerous at the same time. His faceoff game has been sorely missed, especially now with the loss of Manny Malhotra for the rest of the season. Kesler will continue to take big minutes as he works himself into game shape against the best forwards in the world, and in doing so, will cause opposing Head Coaches to game plan against him, which will open up even more opportunities for the Sedin twins against different defensive pairings. There is not one Canuck that can bring all the tools to the table that Kesler possesses when he is on top of his game, and that just makes a tough team even tougher to play against. A fresh and healthy Kesler will be critical for the Canucks to make a deep run in the postseason this year, and seeing a fresh, healthy and motivated RK17 in mid February is great news for this organization.
It will take time for the team to adjust to having Kesler in the lineup, and determine just who will be most effective to play with him. The Sedins and Burrows to me are a lock to stay together, as the old adage goes, “if it aint broke, don’t fix it.” Myself, now knowing that it sounds like David Booth is ready to make his own season debut on Tuesday against the red hot Blackhawks, I would like to see the reunion of “The AMEX Line” with Booth, Kesler and Higgins skating together. It’s impossible to say just what kind of impact Booth can have without playing a game yet this season, but this line has familiarity on its side, and has displayed good chemistry in the past and I feel can be just as effective once again.
This would allow Jordan Schroeder and Mason Raymond to continue to play together, and I would like to see Zack Kassian get a shot on the wing with these two. Kassian has hit a bit of a wall in the last week or so, and needs to rediscover the aspects of his game that had him the toast of the city in late January. he is a big body, better hands than I expected and, although not as fast as Schroeder or Raymond, can move well for a big man, and if he plays to his strengths, I think he could open up a lot of ice for the speedy duo who have been nothing short of a pleasant surprise this young season. Raymond has to be hands down Canucks comeback player of the year at this point, and this trio could potentially be one of the most dangerous third lines in the NHL.
The unfortunate victim of lineup depth in this equation is Jannik Hansen, as I would see him on a fourth line with Max Lapierre, and take your pick of Dale Weise and Aaron Volpatti. Hansen is such a coup for this organization I feel, as he is speedy enough to play with top six forwards, is a tenacious forechecker and can chip in offensively. It does not seem fair to see him “wallowing” on a fourth line, but this is the price you play to play for an organization that has aspirations of winning it all, and not just making it to the playoffs. You need a forward like Jannik Hansen, that almost everyone in the league would love on their second or third line, to provide that depth and hustle to the lineup. To allow your Head Coach to effectively roll four lines, and not just when you are up or down by two or three goals in the third period. And if things are not going well, like stretches last evening, the Head Coach has the luxury to mix and juggle lines, and have effective players take key minutes, on any given night, to give your team the best chance to win.
For a team with a 8-3-3 record, it has been a frustrating season at times for Canucks fans, with, inconsistencies in the overall game, not possessing a killer instinct with a lead, and a defence that seems to make the game much more difficult than it needs to be. The fact that the record is what it is, is a testament to the remarkable goaltending the team has received, from both Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, and also to the depth that this franchise has, that many other teams simply do not. A healthy Ryan Kesler can make this a much more dangerous hockey team as it heads into the second quarter of this shortened season.
Your thoughts? Thanks for reading.
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