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Joey Kenward: Worth every penny

by Joey Kenward / Vancouver Canucks

$30 million over the next six years. For a player who is only 25 years old, that is tonnes of cash.

In today’s NHL marketplace, and with the way he plays the game, it’s tough to argue why Ryan Kesler isn’t worth every penny the Canucks have agreed to pay him.

The native of Livonia, Michigan was all smiles Friday morning after the Canucks announced he signed a long-term contract extension with the club. While the club’s policy is never to release contract details, it didn’t take long for the numbers to leak out and to see why Kesler was so pleased.

“To be here for six more years is something I’m extremely happy about,” commented Kesler on his big pay day. “I’ve always wanted to keep playing here. It’s a great organization. The fans are great to me. The city is great to me. This is something that my family and I are really excited about.”

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Kesler is currently in the midst of his most productive season points-wise as a Canuck. He has already established career highs for assists (45) and points (66), and is just five goals shy of tying his personal best for goals in a season (26). Those are impressive numbers for a player who broke into the NHL as a defensive minded forward.

“He’s always had a good skill set of speed, puck control, shooting, and being able to go to the tough areas,” says Head Coach Alain Vigneault. “I think every year he’s progressed and has become one of the best two-way players in the league.”

On top of his offensive and defensive strong points, Kesler is absolutely miserable to play against. He has a league-wide reputation for getting under the skin of his opponents…and being very good at it. And it’s not just players who can’t stand him. Many coaches, newspaper writers, and broadcasters around the league despise him. Go ahead and ask hockey people outside of Vancouver what they think of Kesler. Chances are you’ll get some not-so-flattering answers in response.

“Guys chase him around all night and want to kill him,” says Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis. “Now he’s putting up points and guys that play with him are becoming better players.”

When Canucks fans think of Kesler, they usually think of his goals, hits, fore-checking, shot-blocking, face offs, penalty killing, and even the occasional fight. One thing that can’t be over-looked though is how durable a player he has been. In the 2006/07 season, Kesler appeared in just 48 games after suffering an injury to his hip. Otherwise, since he became a full-time NHLer in 2005, Kesler has missed just two regular season games!

“He’s taken on much more of a leadership role with our team,” adds Gillis. “We now know he’s a Top 6 forward who can carry a line. On a nightly basis he’s one of the hardest working guys in our room.”

The Canucks scouting staff has taken some heat in the past for players selected in the first round. That can’t be said for their top pick in 2003. Go and search out the draft class of that year. It’s one of the most talented player pools the draft has seen in a long time. When you compare those who were selected before him as well as those after him, getting Kesler at 23rd overall should be considered a steal for Vancouver.

“Every year I’ve come in wanting to get better,” says Kesler. “I want to be a better leader. I want to be a better player on the ice. I want to be a guy the coaches look at to be on the ice, not just in defensive situations but offensive situations too.”

And you can’t argue with his accomplishments when he’s stepped on to the ice wearing something other than a Canucks uniform. He’s won Gold Medals for the United States at the World Under 17, Under 18, and World Junior Championships, and of course was a big component in the squad that won Silver at the recent Olympics held in Vancouver.

Canucks fans can only hope that with his new found wealth and his past championship experience that Kesler can help lead this city to a long awaited title in the near future.

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