By Curtis Zupke | NHL.com NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September
Ryan Kesler finished a media session with reporters after a morning skate and the conversation turned toward the weather.
Kesler has been in Southern California for about a month, and the daytime temperature rarely dipped below 85 degrees. On a day off, he rode bikes with his family around the postcard Orange County beach cities of Laguna Beach and Corona del Mar.
"It's a beautiful spot," Kesler said. "Does it ever rain here? It's amazing. No complaints. The family loves it."
Told that the locals consider 55 degrees to be seriously cold, Kesler was almost dumbfounded.
"Fifty-five? That's shorts weather," he said.
Kesler has settled into a new residence with an ocean view, in a climate opposite to his former home, as he begins the second phase of his hockey career. He is a member of the Anaheim Ducks, right down to the shorts-and-sandals attire his teammates wear to work every day.
"Waking up every morning and seeing the ocean is definitely something I never thought I'd be doing, especially walking to the rink in flip flops," he said. "I hear in December it gets a little weird. It's a little exciting."
Anaheim general manager Bob Murray acquired Kesler from the Vancouver Canucks with a third-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft for center Nick Bonino, defenseman Luca Sbisa and first- and third-round picks in the 2014 draft.
Kesler is expected to take pressure of captain Ryan Getzlaf, bring a nasty element down the middle and help the Ducks in all situations. After setbacks with foot and shoulder injuries, Kesler worked with new trainers in his first full healthy summer in three years and said, "I'm in the best shape of my life."
DUCKS 30 IN 15 STORIES
It took him two periods to shake off the rust in his unofficial Ducks debut Sept. 25 before he scored on his first shot on goal, a one-timer from the slot. Coach Bruce Boudreau was already sold.
"He wants to be the best," Boudreau said. "Every shift he takes, he wants to be the best player out there. And he doesn't take shifts off. That's what I've seen in his skating."
The Ducks have had Saku Koivu in the No. 2 center role in seasons past, but Koivu didn't have the size or strength of the 6-foot-2, 202-pound Kesler. Nor does he have the agitator factor of Kesler, whose rough-hewn style worked so well for the United States in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
"He just plays the game hard," said Los Angeles Kings captain and Olympics teammate Dustin Brown. "He does all those little things that you want, like the PK, the blocking shots. He kind of plays with an edge. He's one of those guys you generally don't like, which I always say is a good thing for a player."
Kesler was already an enemy to the Kings from his Vancouver days, but his arrival in Anaheim should bring a new dynamic to the Ducks-Kings rivalry. Anaheim has that pest element in Corey Perry but it amps up more with Kesler.
Center - ANA
Goals: 25 | Assists: 18 | Pts: 43
Shots: 239| +/-: -15
"I think we were missing that a little bit," center Andrew Cogliano said. "I think that's something you need going far in the playoffs. I think the Kings have shown that with more grit and guys that are determined. Not that the guys we had weren't … [but] I think it adds another level of emotion that our team can feed off of."
Getzlaf and Perry were the first two players to text him when the trade occurred. Ducks veterans detested playing against Kesler, but they're glad to have him on their side.
Kesler feels the same way.
"You go from one of the veterans that have been around to being the new guy," he said. "It's a little different. First time in a while being the new guy – 11 years, actually. It's a little different. But the guys are great. The guys have taken me in."
It helps the transition that Kesler won't face the same media scrutiny he did in Vancouver. There are a few local beat writers, a scenario that appealed to Koivu. The pressure will be heavy but it's a different environment.
Kesler's career ended awkwardly in Vancouver, which did not trade him at the NHL Trade Deadline and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Kesler chose Anaheim over the Chicago Blackhawks for a fresh start at age 30.
"I'm not old, but I'm getting up there," he said. "It's a chance. I know how close these guys were last year. With the changes they made, hopefully we're that much closer. But in saying that, we're a long way away from April and May. It's going to be a long year, and it's going to be a learning curve for me, a learning curve for some of my teammates too. Come April, we're going to be ready."