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Five questions facing Canucks going into the 2012-13 season

by Dan Rosen / Vancouver Canucks

There are some questions that the Canucks will have to answer over the course of the season if they want to stay atop the NHL and remain a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

Here are five worth pondering right now:

1. When will Ryan Kesler make his season debut?

Perhaps the better question is will Kesler ever be the same player he was two seasons ago, when he scored 41 goals and won the Selke Trophy? It's a fair question considering for the second straight offseason he is rehabilitating from an invasive surgical procedure.

However, Kesler's season debut is first and foremost on the Canucks' minds now. He had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder in May and the initial diagnosis was that he would be out for six months, meaning a mid-November return at the earliest.

Kesler isn't about to push himself to make opening night because of what happened last season. He missed only five games after rehabbing from hip surgery, but wasn't himself until after Christmas. By the time Kesler finally got going, he hurt his shoulder and wasn't the same for the final two-and-a-half months of the season.

2. How will B.C. native Jason Garrison fare after signing a big contract?

Garrison cashed in on his big season with the Florida Panthers by signing a six-year, $27.6 million contract with the Canucks. Now he'll have to live up to the money for the first time in his career. His $4.6 million cap hit matches that of Kevin Bieksa, who was the highest-paid Canucks defenseman.

Garrison, who will replace Sami Salo, improved in all three of his seasons with the Panthers and topped out at 16 goals and 17 assists for 33 points in 77 games last season while earning $700,000, according to He scored nine goals on the power play.

"We have a lot of confidence that he's going to be a stabilizing, solid contributor," Gillis told "Expectations here are high. He understands that. He's from the area. This is his hometown team. I think he's going to respond really well."

3. Is Chris Tanev ready for a full-time role?

Tanev has played in 54 games along with 10 playoff games in the last two seasons. He has only three assists, but has served as a capable stay-at-home defenseman. He's entering the final year of his entry-level contract and the Canucks have him tabbed, at least right now, as being a part of their top six along with Garrison, Bieksa, Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard.

There is a very real possibility that Tanev and Ballard start the season as the Canucks' third pair. That may make some fans uneasy, but Tanev has the ability to be a breakout performer because he's still young enough (22) and developing his offensive game.

"They were a very good pair for us last year when they played together," Gillis said of Tanev and Ballard. "They feed off one another really well."

Tanev is not going to light the lamp often for the Canucks, but he can become at least a threat if he improves his shot. He's not flashy, but his first pass is known to be quite good. He'll be given every chance to be a regular on the Canucks' blue line.

4. Can David Booth produce like a top-six forward?

Booth scored 31 goals in 72 games for the Panthers four seasons ago. He has scored 47 goals in 172 games since then, including 16 goals in 56 games with the Canucks last season.

If Booth plays a full season, scores 20-plus goals and produces 50-plus points, the Canucks would be happy. They need to see some consistency out of a player who is signed for three more seasons with a cap hit of $4.25 million.

If he performs well, the Canucks will be a much more dangerous team when Kesler returns and the pressure won't be nearly as high on other wingers Mason Raymond and Alex Burrows.

The Canucks would likely prefer to have a second line of Kesler, Booth and Raymond behind a top line of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Burrows. That would give them the flexibility to have Jannik Hansen, Zack Kassian, Dale Weise and Chris Higgins in the bottom six.

5. Will Zack Kassian develop into the rugged winger the Canucks need?

Vancouver traded for Kassian hoping he would become the bruiser it was missing in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. If he turns into Milan Lucic, well let's just say the Canucks wouldn't complain.

Kassian will be given a chance to earn a spot in the Canucks' top six to start the season. Vancouver will need to see him become the gritty, tough, crash-and-bang player he was in junior hockey. He was drafted No. 13 by the Sabres in 2009 because he has those attributes.

The problem Kassian will have in Vancouver is the pressure to become that intimidating forward right away, because Canucks fans won't have to stay up late to see how Cody Hodgson is doing with the Buffalo Sabres. Hodgson was the promising center and former first-round pick Gillis sent to Buffalo in exchange for Kassian, so fans will likely measure the trade by tracking the career paths of the two players.

Kassian needs to intimidate all the time, not just every once in a while. And he needs to be a threat to score.

"We've monitored his training very, very carefully this summer, had him at a bunch of different places and doing a bunch of different things," Gillis said. "He's in great shape physically."

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