What Ryan Kesler's Return Will Mean to the Vancouver Canucks
UPDATE: Friday, February 15 at 2:45 p.m. ET by Nicholas Goss
Kesler will play tonight. #canucks— Farhan Lalji (@FarhanLaljiTSN) February 15, 2013
---End of Update---
Of course, anytime a team adds a superstar player who dominates at both ends of the ice to its lineup, it's a huge boost. Don't expect Kesler to play 20-plus minutes per night as soon as he returns, but it's good that he's been given all the time he needs to return at 100 percent.
The Canucks' scoring depth has improved over the last two weeks, but Kesler's presence in the lineup makes Vancouver one of the most difficult teams to beat in the NHL. As one of the five best two-way centers in the league, Kesler's impact will be on display in all three zones.
Expect the Canucks' special teams to greatly improve when the 28-year-old forward gets back on the ice.
Vancouver ranks 18th in power-play percentage, and since Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows and Jason Garrison have zero goals with the man advantage, Kesler's scoring and playmaking abilities will be a welcomed addition to the team's power-play unit.
His size also helps him battle in front of the net on the power play, where he screens the goalie for defensemen at the point and battles for loose pucks to score dirty goals.
He has averaged 11.25 power-play goals over the last four seasons and finished fourth in the NHL with 15 power-play goals during the 2010-11 season. Vancouver ranks 16th in faceoffs with a 49.6 percent success rate, and with Kesler taking draws, the Canucks should climb into the top 10 by the end of the season.
Kesler is also a player who creates a lot of offense by being aggressive in the attacking zone. He's averaged 232.6 shots on goal over the last three seasons and has finished fourth or higher on the team in shots on goal since the start of the 2009-10 season.
Overall, the Canucks offense ranks 12th in goals scored, so getting a consistent 20-plus-goal scorer back in the lineup will make this team much more difficult to defend.
Daniel Sedin and Kesler are the only Vancouver forwards who have scored 20 or more goals in five straight seasons. Even after returning from injury sooner than he should have last season, Kesler was able to score 22 goals and add 27 assists in 77 games.
The penalty kill, which has been below average at times, is going to improve quite a bit with Kesler on the ice. Vancouver has allowed a power-play goal in three of its last four games, and on the season, the team's penalty kill ranks 22nd in the league.
As an elite defensive forward who won the Frank J. Selke Trophy in 2011, Kesler will play a lot of minutes against opposing teams' best forwards, and when he's out of the lineup, the Canucks don't have that kind of player.
Despite his impressive offensive numbers, Kesler is a defense-first player. He backchecks, impacts games physically, blocks shots and wins important defensive-zone faceoffs.
Is Kesler the Canucks' most valuable forward?
Kesler's return will solidify the Canucks' second line and add some much-needed depth at forward. If he stays healthy, general manager Mike Gillis won't have to use quality assets such as draft picks and prospects to acquire a top-six center before the April 3 trade deadline.
With Kesler healthy, the Canucks are one of the top contenders for the Stanley Cup and the favorites to win the Western Conference. Kesler has 36 points in his last 52 playoff games and he's a player who thrives on the pressure and intensity that the postseason creates.
When he's on top of his game (2011 Western Conference semifinals vs. Nashville Predators, for example), few players make more of an impact at both ends of the ice.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.
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