HEIGHT: 6′ 2″
BIRTHDATE: AUG 31, 1984
BIRTHPLACE: LIVONIA, MI, UNITED STATES
If any true hockey fan doesn’t recognize the name Ryan Kesler, they must have been living under a rock for the past 5 years. From Kesler’s humble beginnings playing for the Detroit Honeybaked in the Midwest Elite Hockey League, to finally overthrowing Datsyuk’s tenure as winner of the Frank J Selke trophy last year, Kesler is a true superstar and all of this at the humble age of 26.
THE MAKING OF A STAR
Kesler was born on August 31, 1984 in Livonia, Michigan, also the hometown of fellow hockey players Mike Modano of the Red Wings and David Moss of the Flames. He idolised both Modano and Joe Sakic growing up and was a fan of local team the Minnesota North Stars. He played for several junior teams in Detroit but didn’t make the cut for the AAA grade ending up playing bantam hockey for his fathers team.
Kesler then caught his break, being invited to play for the US National Development Team based in Ann Arbor, MI. He enjoyed two fairly successful seasons with the US National team and went on to Ohio State University for one season, playing 40 games and scoring 11 goals and 20 assists for the Buckeyes which lead to being drafted 23rd overall on June 23, 2003 by the Vancouver Canucks.
AHL TO NHL
The 2003 draft was arguably one the best for NHL talent ever and included first round selections:
1- Marc-Andre Fleury
2- Eric Staal
9- Dion Phaneuf
11- Jeff Carter
14- Brent Seabrook
17- Zach Parise
19- Ryan Getzlaf
24- Mike Richards
28- Corey Perry
Two months after his selection, Kesler signed a 3 year, $2.475 million deal for the Canucks. After failing to make the pre-season cut, Kesler was sent to Winnipeg to play for the Vancouver affiliate Manitoba Moose.
After two months with the Moose, Kesler was called back to the big leagues on November 24, 2003 and played his first NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kesler scored his first goal 5 days later against the Calgary Flames. He spent most of the 2003/2004 season split between the two teams, playing 28 for the Canucks and 33 for the Moose.
During the NHL lockout of 2004/2005, Kesler spent the entire season with the Moose in the AHL playing 78 games and registering 57 points, earning him the Most Valuable Player award for the Manitoba team that year.
Kesler featured in all 82 games for Vancouver in 2005/2006, playing the majority of the season in a 3rd line centre role, alongside Canucks legend Trevor Linden. Kesler had a decent season, scoring 10 goals and 13 assists. The end of the 2006 season also signalled the end of Kesler’s 3 year entry-level contract, with the Philadelphia Flyers offering RFA Kesler a 1 year, 1.9 million deal. For two days, Kesler was technically a Flyer before the Canucks matched the offer sheet and Kesler remained in BC for another year.
After a promising start to the season, Kesler suffered a torn hip-joint and was forced to have surgery, missing the remaining 34 games of the season. He then broke his finger two days after his recovery from surgery and missed almost all of the playoffs. Despite limited playing time, Kesler signed a new 3 year, $5.25 million contract on May 24, 2007.
After showing glimpses of his ability in the previous 3 seasons with Vancouver, Kesler had his break-out year in 2007/2008, justifying his first round pick and proving to the hockey world that he was a force to be reckoned with, ending the season with 37 points. During the year he was involved in several high-profile incidents, including the infamous crosscheck-to-the-head by Jesse Boulerice and the stomp by Chris Pronger which earned the Ducks player an 8 game suspension.
A BORN LEADER
At the start of the 2008/9 campaign, the Canucks suffered an exodus of senior players and Kesler was given the alternate captain duties. As well as having the reputation of a great defensive shut-down forward, he was also known as a trash-talking chirper with an aggressive side. Improving his points tally to 59, Kesler was given regular second line duties for the first time in his Canucks career spending most of the season alongside Pavol Demitra, Mats Sundin and Alex Burrows. During this season, Kesler was also named as a Selke Award finalist alongside Pavel Datsyuk and Mike Richards.
The 2009/2010 season remains Kesler’s most productive with a career high 75 points, 50 assists and 25 goals. Kesler proved himself as a big game player during the 2010 playoffs, scoring 1 goal and 9 assists in 12 games, helping eliminate the Kings in 5. Despite admitting to playing with a shoulder injury, Kesler showed heart through another Canucks elimination to the Blackhawks in the second round.
The issue of captaincy plagued the Canucks prior to the start of the next season, with many believing too much pressure was being put on Roberto Luongo which was affecting his game and called for a change in leadership. Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler were the two front-runners for the vacant C and even though Henrik was announced as captain on October 9, 2010, the fact that Kesler’s name was in serious consideration for the leadership position was huge for the 26 year old in only his 5th full season with the Vancouver club.
Having only missed 2 games in the 3 seasons prior, the iron-man streak was to continue for Ryan in 2010/2011, playing all 82 games and all 25 playoff games, ending the season one game shy of winning the Stanley Cup. Kesler was a beast for the Western Conference champions, increasing his goal tally by 16 to 41 with 31 assists. As advised by the Canucks management, he changed his playing style to a more focused and relaxed game, shying away from the usual chirping and aggression that he was known for in the past. He was once again nominated for the Selke and finally won the prestigious trophy on June 22, 2011 at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas.
Kesler has again and again proven himself to be a vital part of the Canucks setup and as being one of the best centre-man in the league. His 6 year contract signed on the 19th of March 2010, at $5 million a year, sees Kesler in a Canucks uniform until the end of the 2015/2016 season. Along with the signing of the Sedin Twins, the long term deal for Kesler signals Vancouvers intention of remaining one of the best teams in the NHL and gives them a great chance at winning the Western Conference for a second straight season.
OUT OF A CANUCKS UNIFORM
As well as his NHL accomplishments, Kesler is also a vital member of the US national hockey team, helping his country to first defeat Canada 5-3 and then eventually lose to the Canadians 3-2 in the final of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
Kesler is known as a family man, with wife Andrea and two children Makayla Rylan and Ryker.
He also has his own fashion brand through Firstar called RK 17.
This video sums up his hockey ability, making it look easy in a tense playoff game against Nashville:
Admirer of the NHL, Canucks and the Swiss NLA. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @HockeyWest