CANUCKS INK KESLER LONGTERM
The final piece of the puzzle has finally been locked into place.
Canucks forward Ryan Kesler was signed to a long-term contract extension Friday morning, the deal keeps him in Vancouver through the 2015-2016 season.
Kesler locked down for the next six seasons gives the Canucks a formidable quintet of some of the NHL’s best players. Alex Burrows, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Roberto Luongo and now Kesler will all be with Vancouver for at least the next three seasons.
“Today is an exciting day for the Canucks organization,” said general manager Mike Gillis. “Ryan Kesler has excelled as a two-way player and in his role as an alternate captain. Ryan has showcased his ability to perform under extreme pressure and we are looking forward to continuing to see Ryan develop into one of the league’s premier players.”
Kesler has been with the Canucks since the 2003-04 season having played 391 games with 86 goals and 120 assists in that time. Drafted 23rd overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Kesler established himself as a reliable two-player from the first time he set foot on GM Place ice.
"He's right up there with Lui and the twins as the backbone of our organization," said Kevin Bieksa. "I've been with Kes for about six years now and seen him grow from the minors into playing on the third or fourth line to being one of the best players on the team. He's had tremendous growth over the past five or six years, he's a great player, huge in the dressing room, and we're all very happy for him."
The Michigan product, now 25, has since ripened into arguably the best defensive forward in the league, his Selke nomination from a year ago proof of that.
"He's always had a good skill set of speed, puck control, a good shot, and a willingness to do the harder things like go to the tougher areas and block the shots,” said Canuck head coach Alain Vigneault. “I think every year he's progressed and he's one of the best two way players in the League."
With an uncanny knack for getting under his opposition’s skin (whether in the NHL or on the international stage), Kesler is revered throughout the league for his ability to knock players out of their comfort zone. He frustrates them with his physical nature and his sharp tongue.
"You'd rather have him on your team than against you," said Roberto Luongo. "He gets underneath players' skin and gets them off their game and those are little things that you don't notice but they are very effective when he does that."
Kesler’s desire to win is also second to none in the Canucks locker room and his pursuit of perfection has led to a hungrier, grittier, scrappier forward each season.
With 11 games remaining, Kesler has already established career highs in assists (45), points (66), power play goals (12) and game-winners (4); this season also marks the third consecutive that Kesler has surpassed the 20 goal mark.
As the world witnessed during the Olympics, once Kesler sets his sights on a goal, he’ll stop at nothing until he’s achieved it. Players like that are diamonds in the rough so signing one long-term is a major victory for the Canucks.
"I've always wanted to play here,” said Kesler. “It's a great organization. I thank the Aquilini family, I thank Mr. Gillis and the management team, the coaching staff, and my teammates for always believing in me. I've always wanted to stay here, my family loves it here. The fans are great to me, and the city's great to me. To be here for six more years is something my family and myself are very happy about."
RED WINGS PAY A VISIT
Saturday night the Canucks face the eighth place Detroit Red Wings for the final time this season. The Red Wings are fighting for a playoff spot, something they rarely have to do.
The Red Wings have tasted sweet victory in the Stanley Cup finals 11 times, and the Canucks want their turn. Last season the series between the two teams was a 2-2 tie. This year the Canucks suffered two losses earlier in the season but turned it around and defeated them 6-3 in their second game back from the Olympic break.
The Red Wings are third in the Central division and eighth in the West with 80 points (34-23-12), but are only one point away from missing the playoffs. The Calgary Flames are hot on their tail with 79 points (35-26-9).
With the return of injured key players Johan Franzen (7-4-11), Tomas Holstrom (20-13-33), and Andres Lilja (0-1-1), the Red Wings are healthy now, and pose a possible threat to the Canucks as the playoff push intensifies.
The Canucks and the Red Wings are both 7-2-1 in their last 10. Detroit has won their last three games including a crucial 2-1 victory over the Flames on Monday. Red Wing goaltender Jimmy Howard has won 27 games for Detroit this season and is fourth in the League for save percentage at .924%.
"That team, the experience they have there, they're healthy now, and they're used to these pressure moments," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. "Now they're fighting for their playoff lives so obviously tomorrow they're going to be a desperate team at the top of their game and we're going to have to be at our very best for 60 minutes."
The Canucks will once again play without Mikael Samuelsson who is out two to three weeks with an upper body injury. He had recorded 13 points in his last eight games (nine goals, four assists) and has set a new career high this season registering 53 points (30-23-53).
The Canucks have 91 points (44-24-3), they’re five ahead of the lingering Colorado Avalanche (40-24-6) and five behind the San Jose Sharks (43-17-10) and Chicago Blackhawks (45-19-6) who lead the West, both with 96.