To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first NHL Draft, NHL.com assembled a 13-member panel to select the best first-round picks of all time, based on selection number. NHL.com will feature one of the top first-round picks each day, beginning with the best No. 30 pick on June 1 and culminating with the all-time No. 1 pick on June 30, the day of the 2013 NHL Draft.
Prior to the start of training camp in 2006, the Philadelphia Flyers signed an unproven Vancouver Canucks restricted free agent center to a one-year, $1.9 million contract. The Canucks weren't ready to pay Ryan Kesler that kind of money, but their matching the offer looks like a no-brainer decision.
Kesler has gone on to become a 40-goal scorer, Selke Trophy winner and Olympic silver medalist. He's been chosen the best No. 23 first-round pick in NHL.com's Dream Draft.
Kesler wasn't in the minor leagues long. He made his NHL debut Nov. 24, 2003, at the Toronto Maple Leafs, and scored his first goal in his fourth game, Nov. 29, 2003, at the Calgary Flames. He had two goals and three assists in 28 NHL games, but the highlight of his season came when he had three goals in six games to help the United States win its first gold medal at the 2004 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Kesler played in the AHL in 2004-05 and emerged as a full-time NHL player in 2005-06, when he had 23 points in 82 games. After the Canucks matched the offer sheet the Flyers had signed him to, Kesler was limited to 48 games by a hip injury in 2006-07.
Healthy in 2007-08, he had his first 20-goal season, then raised his numbers across the board in 2008-09, with personal-bests at the time of 26 goals and 59 points. In 2009-10 he finished third on the team, behind Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, with 75 points, and finished second in voting for the Selke Trophy as the League's best defensive forward as he began to gain recognition as one of the best two-way centers in the League. He also had two goals in six games to help the United States reach the title game at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, where it lost to Canada.
The 2010-11 season marked the high point of Kesler's NHL career. His 41 goals were tied for fifth in the League, and he scored 15 power-play goals to help the Canucks win the Presidents' Trophy. He also had a plus-24 rating, three shorthanded goals, and was second among Canucks forwards with 2:33 of ice time per game shorthanded, all of which helped earn him the Selke Trophy.
He was outstanding in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs as well, finishing third on the team with 19 points. Against the Nashville Predators in the second round, he had a hand in 11 of the Canucks' 14 goals in the series, including scoring the game-winning goals in back-to-back games in Nashville.
Injuries have dogged Kesler the past two seasons. Offseason hip surgery in the summer of 2011 sidelined him for the first two weeks of 2011-12, and his offensive production nearly fell by half, to 22 goals and 49 points. Some of that was due to a shoulder injury with which he played the last two months of the season. He had surgery during the summer of 2012, then needed another procedure on his wrist.
Kesler missed the first month of 2012-13, but managed 13 points in 17 games. He had two goals in four games in the Canucks' first-round loss to the San Jose Sharks.
"Ryan Kesler is a premier two-way center in this League," NHL.com deputy managing editor Brian Compton said. "Sure, he had to battle through some injuries this season, but this is someone who won the Selke Trophy the same season he scored 41 goals. If that's not a dominant two-way player, I don't know what is."