The Vancouver Canucks will be retiring the Sedin twins’ jerseys on Wednesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, and the special night will feature some familiar faces to Canucks fans. This includes Ryan Kesler, who, during his time with the Canucks, grew into a leadership role and became a Selke Trophy winner. He was the heart and soul of the team when they made a run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.
The relationship took a turn when Kesler requested a trade in 2014, which led to him being dealt to the Anaheim Ducks and getting booed in his return to Vancouver. This will be the first time Kesler will be in Rogers Arena without a Ducks jersey.
Kesler is unsure about how he will be received by the fans in attendance. He hopes all that he’s done since being drafted will be enough to change the fan bases mind.
Drafted by Vancouver
Kesler was selected with the 23rd pick in the 2003 NHL Draft by the Canucks. The 2003 draft class is remembered as one of the best draft classes in NHL history due to all the star players featured in it. With Marc Andre-Fleury, Eric Staal and Nathan Horton selected in the top three, Vancouver was fortunate to snag the two-way forward late in the first.
Kesler bounced back and forth between Vancouver and their then-AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, in the 2003-04 season. He continued to play with the Moose through the 2004-05 lockout season. Kesler played through the entire 2005-06 season with the Canucks, totaling 23 points in 82 games in his first full NHL season. In the 2006 offseason, Kesler’s contract expired and the Philadelphia Flyers signed him to a one-year offer sheet, which the Canucks matched.
Leadership Role With Vancouver
The Canucks lost former captain Markus Naslund (free agency) and assistant captains Brendan Morrison (free agency) and Trevor Linden (retirement) after the 2007-08 season. This allowed Kesler to become a leader in Vancouver’s locker room. The Canucks named Roberto Luongo captain prior to the start of the next season and Kesler was named an assistant captain along with Mattias Ohlund and Willie Mitchell.
Emerging as a Top Two-Way Forward
Kesler’s early days with the Canucks saw him playing a defensive role and featured him on a line with teammate Alex Burrows. The two were used to shut down other teams’ top lines and kill penalties but they were known for the amount of talking they did on the ice as well (from ‘Jason Botchford: For trash talk it’s not much, but Burrows and Kesler will have to do,’ The Province,’ 04/17/2009).
From the 2007-08 season to the 2009-10 season, Kesler hit the 20-goal mark and saw a career-high in points with 75 in 82 games during the 2009-10 season. Kesler established himself as a two-way forward over these three seasons and was eventually rewarded for it in 2011.
Selke Win and 2011 Cup Run
In 2010-11, Kesler had a career-high 41 goals and was awarded the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward after being nominated the previous two seasons. Kesler edged out Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews to win the award. He was rewarded for his stellar season and played in his first NHL All-Star game.
The 2010-11 season was one to remember for the Canucks and their fans, as they made their third Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history. Kesler posted seven goals and 19 points in 25 games during the run. He was viewed as a strong Conn Smythe candidate for the Canucks heading into the Final.
The first round saw Kesler in a defensive role as he was matched up against Toews, who did not register an even-strength point and finished with just three points in the seven-game series. Kesler’s performance in the second round against the Nashville Predators was the most impressive – he had a point in 11 of the 14 goals the Canucks scored in that round and scored a very memorable goal for Canuck fans in Game 4.
Trade to Anaheim
After the disappointing 2013-14 season, Kesler requested a trade from Vancouver. He didn’t make it easy on Jim Benning, who was recently hired as the general manager of the Canucks at the time. Although Benning attempted to get the former Selke winner to expand his list of teams that he would waive his no-trade clause for, he would not. The list included just two teams, the Blackhawks and the Ducks.
Kesler waived his no-trade clause to allow the Canucks to deal him, ending his 10-season tenure with the franchise. He was traded alongside a 2015 third-round pick for Nick Bonino and Luca Sbisa, plus Anaheim’s first and third-round picks in 2014. Kesler played five seasons with Ducks but was unable to reach his goal of winning the Stanley Cup during his time in Anaheim. He is now on long-term injured reserve and will likely never play a game in the NHL again.
Return to Vancouver
How Kesler will be received by the crowd in Vancouver is still a mystery. It has been reported by Vancouver media that the Sedin twins have invited Kesler to attend their special night. So, that may sway the crowd into forgiving and forgetting all that has happened with the ex-Canuck for one night.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.