2011 NHL Playoffs: Ryan Kesler, from Zero to Hero for Vancouver Canucks

Adam GrahamAnalyst IIMay 11, 2011

RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 29:  Ryan Kesler #17 of the Vancouver Canucks is introduced during the Honda NHL SuperSkills competition part of 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend at the RBC Center on January 29, 2011 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, Ryan Kesler couldn’t be found anywhere on the goal scoring sheet. Sure he had four assists and was generating plenty of scoring chances, but the pucks weren’t going in for him and it was a cause for serious concern in Canucks nation.

How does a player who finished 4th in goals with 41 in the regular season have zero through an entire seven game series in the first round of the playoffs?

It was hard to imagine for the Canucks fans and probably for Kesler too. He would never admit it, but he was probably starting to wonder what was wrong with him in the playoffs. Before Game 3 of the Vancouver Canucks second round series against the Nashville Predators, Kesler had a grand total of three goals in 32 career playoff games.

But that was about to change. Kesler busted out for two goals in Game 3, one of which was the overtime winner and he also added an assist. That seemed to spark the powerful center to take his game to another level. A level that no one thought even a player as good as Kesler could elevate his game to.

Three games and seven more points later and Kesler is leading the entire NHL in playoff scoring. He’s also just about everybody’s pick for the Conn Smythe trophy, which goes to the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

So to those of you who had written Ryan Kesler off as a playoff choke artist and a player who can’t take his game to another level at the most important times, shame on you. Clearly you didn’t watch him closely in round one of these playoffs and clearly you haven’t followed his career closely enough either.

The round one performance of Kesler almost mirrored the early part of his NHL career. He was a solid player who was very good defensively and generated enough scoring chances, but he didn’t have the offensive numbers to show for it. In fact, many Canucks fans had written off Kesler after his first few years in the league. They felt he didn’t have good enough hands to be a consistent NHL goal scorer and his numbers weren’t good enough for a former first round draft pick.

But the Canucks management and coaching staff saw potential in Kesler and kept giving him opportunities and eventually he started to produce. His point totals increased from 37 to 59 points in 2008-2009 and then they jumped to 75 points in 2009-2010. He also proved he can show up for big games as he played extremely well for Team U.S.A. at the 2010 Olympics and scored a big goal in the gold medal game against Canada.

The exact same thing can be said about Kesler’s performance is the 2011 playoffs. He started out playing aggressively and was tough for the Chicago Blackhawks top line to play against. However, he was missing on a ton of scoring chances and, as a result, the offensive numbers weren’t there. But the effort and potential was and it was only a matter of time before Kesler broke out in a big way.

It’s amazing to see how quickly Ryan Kesler has turned things around for himself in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs. He is the biggest reason why the Vancouver Canucks were able to defeat the Nashville Predators in the second round and when you look back on how his career has gone so far, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.