NHL 2011 Playoffs: Ryan Kesler Leading Conn Smythe Race Through Two Rounds

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NHL 2011 Playoffs: Ryan Kesler Leading Conn Smythe Race Through Two Rounds
Rich Lam/Getty Images

The Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded to the player judged most valuable to his team during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Typically, it is given to a player on the winning team, but on occasion it has been awarded to a player on the losing team in the Stanley Cup Finals.

If it was awarded after two rounds, Ryan Kesler would walk away with it—at least if the voters followed Don Cherry's advice on Coach's Corner after seemingly every Canucks game.

The NHL itself has put out two "History Will Be Made" commercials starring Ryan Kesler performances, titled "History Leads by Example" and "History is Unstoppable."

Those two titles tell the story right there.

Kesler has simply excelled in the playoffs after a breakout, 41 goal and Selke-nominated regular season.

As the second round winds to a close (only Detroit and San Jose are still playing), Kesler leads the NHL in scoring with five goals and 10 assists for 15 points.

Two of his goals were game winners, but he doesn't just bring offense.

Through the first round, Kesler neutralized Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks, the reigning Conn Smythe winner, holding him without a goal in the series until the dying minutes of Game 7.

Likewise Kesler negated Mike Fischer of the Predators in the second round. Fischer had five points in the first round against Anaheim, but only a single point against Vancouver.

Toews and Fischer are both excellent faceoff men, but Kesler went head to head against them and won 53.8% of his draws.

Kesler leads the Canuck's forwards in ice time, averaging 23:23 per game, including 3:08 short handed and 3:04 with the man advantage.

He is second in the NHL for playoff hits by a forward with 42. (Teammate Maxim Lapierre leads the NHL with 49).

Kesler also has 12 blocked shots (5th amongst forwards) and 16 take aways. Only Pavel Datsyuk, long regarded as the best two way forward in the game, has more take aways with 17.

In Kesler's favor, though, is that he only has two give aways, while Datsyuk has five.

He also plays a key role on the Canucks powerplay, which is operating at 22.2 percent and on the penalty kill, which is running at 86.0 percent.

One of the unwritten requirements for the Conn Smythe is to steal games for your team. Well, Kesler stole an entire series.

In the second round, without the burden of a superstar to neutralize, Kesler exploded offensively and scored five of the 13 Canucks goals. Of the eight goals he didn't score himself, he assisted on six of them.

In other words, he was on the scoresheet for 85 percent of the Canuck's goals against a very stingy Nashville team known for their tenacious defence.

The Predators simply didn't have an answer to Kesler, who was all over the ice as he also recorded 16 hits and 12 takeaways in the series.

"He's turned into a world-class player," said former Canucks and current Predator Shane O'Brien. "He's got some hunger. He obviously wants to win bad."

If the Canucks make the Stanley Cup Finals (and they still need to defeat either the Red Wings or Sharks), the NHL might as well start engraving Kesler's name on the Conn Smythe already.

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