In any big acquisition, there is always inherent risk involved, but the Ducks couldn’t be happier with what they got in Ryan Kesler over the past year.
In one of the higher-profile moves of the 2014 offseason, Anaheim acquired the veteran center from the Vancouver Canucks (along with a third-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft) in exchange for for center Nick Bonino, defenseman Luca Sbisa and the Ducks’ first-round and third-round picks in the 2014 NHL Draft. Kesler needed to waive his no-trade clause to allow the deal to go through, and despite the fact he had spent all 10 of his NHL seasons in Vancouver, he knew he wanted to be a Duck.
"I'm going to Anaheim to win a championship," Kesler said at the time of the deal. "That's going to be my sole goal and my team's sole goal. That's basically it.
“I want to win the Stanley Cup, I want to be a big part of winning the Stanley Cup. I'm not getting any younger. I want to win a championship.”
Falling short of that goal – the Ducks were eliminated in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final by eventual champion Chicago – would mark virtually the only disappointment of the 30-year-old Kesler’s first season in Anaheim. His 20 goals marked the seventh time he reached that plateau in his career, and he added 27 assists and four game-winners for good measure. His team-leading 56.3 faceoff win percentage (ninth-best in the NHL) provided the Ducks much-needed stability in the circle, and his 169 hits was second-highest on the club.
In the postseason, where Kesler traditionally looms large, he had seven goals and six assists, including the assist on Matt Beleskey’s unforgettable goal 45 seconds into OT in a 5-4 victory over the Blackhawks in Game 5 at Honda Center. Each of his playoff assists were primary and either tied the score or put the Ducks ahead.
Beyond the numbers, Kesler was a monster on the power play and penalty kill throughout the season. He also provided a veteran presence in the locker room that only grew as he became more comfortable bonding with teammates with whom he had once had countless antagonistic battles.
“You don’t want to come in the room and be a rah-rah guy right away,” Kesler said in this feature published on AnaheimDucks.com during the playoffs. “I think it takes a couple months, but I’m pretty comfortable now and I do look at myself as one of the leaders on the team.”
It is that leadership presence that has Kesler figuring to be a top candidate to take over one of the alternate captain spots that opened up with the departure of defenseman Francois Beauchemin via free agency.
“He has the ability to settle things down when it needs to be settled,” says Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler of Kesler, a fellow Michigan native. “That’s why he’s such a good leader. A lot of people look at him during those times, and just by his demeanor we can tell what we need to do as a team.”
Meanwhile, the Ducks demonstrated their confidence in Kesler for the long term last month, signing him to a six-year contract extension that keeps him in Anaheim through the 2021-22 season.
“It’s a great organization, great owners, great management that wants to win, great coaches, great trainers. To be a part of this organization for six more years, it’s a good feeling. My family [wife Andrea, daughters Makayla and Kinsley and son Ryker] and I are very happy.”
The Ducks brass know Kesler is a key component in making a run for another Stanley Cup, a lifelong goal Kesler once again emphasized on the day he inked that extension.
“That group is not satisfied until we win a Stanley Cup,” Kesler said. “When we do win that Stanley Cup, I don’t think we’ll be satisfied then either. We’re gonna want another one. We have the group to do it. We have all the pieces. We just need to put them together. We were one game away from going to the Final, and that experience will help us next year.
“I’m gonna make sure, just like all the other leaders on this team, that we learn from this and we learn not to let it happen again. That’s our job as leaders on this team. That’s not gonna happen again, I’ll tell you that.”
Coming up with the best goal of the season isn’t easy for Kesler, who had a couple overtime winners among his 20. But this shorthanded strike in the first period of a March 3 game in Arizona stood as one of the best goals in the league in 2014-15.
On the penalty kill, Kesler pounced on a surrendered puck at center ice, deftly slalomed between Coyotes Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Sam Gagner, then held off a hook from Gagner before rifling the puck through as he fell to the sheet. It was the opening goal of an eventual 4-1 victory for the Ducks.