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X-Factor: Kesler could define success for Canucks

Sunday, 04.28.2013 / 5:15 PM
Brian Compton  - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Whether it's Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider between the pipes, the Vancouver Canucks know they have the type of goaltending required to enjoy a long run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Although they combined for a few more than 20 goals this season, Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin remain world-class players who, if they get hot, can dominate a series.

So, who is the "X-Factor" for Vancouver? Who is the player who can cause fits at both ends of the ice?

That would be versatile forward Ryan Kesler.

Kesler is finally healthy after what has to be the most frustrating season of his career. He began the 2012-13 campaign on injured reserve after undergoing surgeries on his shoulder and wrist.

Then, when he was able make his season debut Feb. 15, against the Dallas Stars, Kesler suffered a broken right foot while blocking a shot. He managed to finish the game and played another six contests (he had a goal and four assists during that stretch) before being sidelined. He missed 19 consecutive games and finally returned to the lineup April 8.

"I am itching, I am itching big time," Kesler told The Province upon his return. "It's been a tough year for me, but everything happens for a reason.

"My goal is to get some games in before playoffs and feel good about my game heading into playoffs."

Kesler has to be feeling good these days. He had three goals and five assists during a 10-game run toward the end of Vancouver's schedule that helped the Canucks win their fifth straight Northwest Division title.

The 28-year-old is a tremendous two-way player who won the Selke Trophy in 2011 as the League's top defensive forward. Kesler is versatile; he's moved between center and right wing since returning from injury. He's skating on Vancouver's second line, on the right side with left wing Christopher Higgins and center Derek Roy.

It remains to be seen if that is where Kesler will be when the postseason gets under way. Kesler had fun with the media recently when asked if he knows where Canucks coach Alain Vigneault will put him.

"Obviously I'm a utility player," Kesler told the Vancouver Sun. "I can play anywhere, probably even defense if they threw me back there. I enjoy it. I have a couple of pretty good linemates and I'm having fun with it."

No matter his position, there's a good chance Kesler is going to produce offensively. The first-round pick (No. 23, 2003) has scored at least 20 goals in a season five times and had a career-high 41 goals in 2010-11, helping the Canucks reach the Stanley Cup Final.

"The way we play, the centerman takes the draws but, after that, our system is based on first forward, second forward, third forward so everybody at any given time has to be able to play according to the systems," Vigneault said earlier this month, when Kesler was first moved to right wing. "Other than the faceoffs, it doesn't really change much to his game."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

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