By AJ Manderichio
As part of the AnaheimDucks.com annual Player Reviews, we will be featuring a different Ducks player throughout the coming weeks, in numerical uniform number order. Each review will include key stats, a highlight and an outlook for 2016-17.
Heart. Hustle. Determination.
In his second year with the Ducks, Ryan Kesler continued to embody the emotional, competitive nature he promised when he first came to Southern California. The American center never seemed to waver, approaching each game with the same scowl and unflappable demeanor.
Those qualities didn’t translate to a smooth season. It took Kesler six games to record his first point – an assist – and 15 to tally his first goal of the season. Through his first 36 games of the season, Kesler had just 12 points (4g/8a), with half coming on the power play.
It all changed when the calendar flipped to 2016.
Kesler averaged a point-per-game in January, posting 11 points (7g/4a) in 11 contests. He went on to record 30 points over the final 32 games of the regular season, finishing with 53 points. It was his highest total since his 2010-11 season with Vancouver. He cracked the 20-goal mark for the third straight season while compiling the third 30-assist season of his career.
His improved play led to direct success for his linemates. Both Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano experienced similar offensive explosions in the second half of the season. Silfverberg, in particular, excelled skating exclusively with Kesler. The Swedish winger scored 17 goals from January to April, helping him reach the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career.
At season’s end, the team’s de-facto ‘checking line’ became one of its most dangerous offensive weapons.
Kesler’s greatest strength comes on the defensive side of the puck. He remains one of – if not the – best defensive forward on the roster, starting almost 75-percent of his even-strength shifts in either the neutral or defensive zone. Kesler co-led all forwards in blocked shots (92) while sitting second among NHL leaders in faceoff win percentage (58.5%). For good measure, he also led the Ducks in hits, finishing the regular season with 168.
As the Ducks transitioned to a defensive team, Kesler’s play against the opponent’s top centers led the charge. His play at even strength against division rival Anze Kopitar – this year’s Frank J. Selke Trophy award winner – was exceptional. When the two faced off, Kesler held him without a goal while keeping his Corsi to a measly 35.1-percent. Kopitar’s goals-against per 60 totals were significantly worse against Kesler (3.89 against, 1.70 apart), as were his Corsi Against percentages (64.84-percent against, 46.09-percent apart).
For an explanation of Corsi, click here.
Kesler allowed Kopitar two – yes, two – shots at even strength in five games.
He also remained the key component to the league’s top-ranked penalty kill. Kesler led the Ducks in shorthanded time-on-ice (217:29) and won over 50-percent of his shorthanded draws. He also led the team in shorthanded blocks (35) and takeaways (10) and finished second to Cogliano in shots (11).
His stellar play carried over to the postseason. Kesler once again led the club in faceoffs (172) and faceoff-win percentage (56.4-percent). He held Ryan Johansen, Nashville’s top center, to three points (1g/2a) in the seven-game First Round series while netting four goals.
On a January night in Detroit, Kesler announced – loudly – his hot streak was ready to start. He scored twice against the Red Wings that night, with the second goal the prettiest of the two.
Kesler’s multi-goal effort – the second in a two-week span – kicked off an impressive scoring streak. He went on to post five points (3g/2a) over his next seven games.
Kesler’s attitude – and compete level – will never be questioned. He’s the rare player who keeps poor performances to a minimum while bringing his best game almost every night. It’s a testament to his conditioning – and mental toughness – that Kesler has missed just four games in his first two seasons with the Ducks.
He’ll once again be called on to provide the secondary scoring on a team that’s lost some offensive firepower during the offseason. Kesler still hit the 20-goal mark despite a career-worst 6.1% shooting percentage at even-strength, a number that should improve next season.
Expect the same defensive tenacity out of the rugged center. In two seasons, Kesler has twice led the Ducks in faceoff-win percentage and faceoff wins and finished in the top two in both hits and takeaways.
When Kesler first arrived in Anaheim two summers ago, he vowed to bring the Stanley Cup back to the Ducks. As part of the leadership group, his play – along with the other veterans – will be under a microscope for the entire season. It’s yet another responsibility tossed onto the shoulders of a man seemingly capable of carrying the expectations of the world during every shift.