VANCOUVER – Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler is in the spotlight as he returns to play against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday for the first time since forcing a trade to Anaheim over the summer.
The Ducks, however, are more focused on the return of other players from illness and injury, and a return to winning on the ice.
While Vancouver fans prepare to welcome Kesler back with a likely mix of cheers and jeers, Anaheim welcomes defenseman Francois Beauchemin back after missing five games with the mumps and forward Devante Smith-Pelly, out three with an upper-body injury.
The Ducks, who also got top goal scorer Corey Perry back from the mumps two games ago, have picked up at least a point in six of the past seven games but only have one win (1-1-5).
That includes a 2-1 shootout loss to the Canucks on Nov. 9 in which they were also missing highly skilled defenseman Cam Fowler.
"Through injury and sickness we were able to battle and get points," said captain Ryan Getzlaf. "We'd like to string a few wins together."
It appears Anaheim will shake up its forward lines with Smith-Pelly back coming off a 4-3 shootout loss to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, with Patrick Maroon moving up to play with Perry and Getzlaf on the top unit. But the bigger impact may be the return of Beauchemin to a team that gave up 17 goals the past four games.
"He's a leader and he eats up minutes," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He's got experience. If you look at our defense for the most part they are pretty young and when he gets back in he'll bring that experience of a Stanley Cup champion and everything that goes with it."
As for Kesler, who was with the Canucks since being picked 23rd in the 2003 NHL Draft, he is hoping for a warm reception but preparing for the worst after orchestrating his departure in the summer.
"Obviously you give your heart and soul out for 10-11 years and you expect a warm reception but if not it just fuels the fire," Kesler said.
Kesler addressed his return after the Ducks practiced in Vancouver on Wednesday, and reiterated it will "be an emotional night" after skating Thursday. He talked about catching up with old friends the day before, but said friendships end on the ice.
"All business [Thursday] and I'll see them after the game," Kesler said. "Hopefully with another two points under our belt."
For all the attention given to Kesler's return, it will also be the first time that defenseman Luca Sbisa, who came back to the Canucks as part of that trade, will get to play against his old Ducks teammates.
Center Nick Bonino, who was also part of the trade for Kesler, scored the shootout winner against his old Anaheim team on Nov. 9, but Sbisa was out with an ankle injury. He is expected to return against the Ducks after missing four games and relished the challenge of maybe playing against ex-teammates Getzlaf and Perry.
"Try to play them hard and get under their skin because they are emotional guys, they get fired up too sometimes," Sbisa said.
Here are the projected lineups:
Patrick Maroon – Ryan Getzlaf – Corey Perry
Matt Beleskey – Ryan Kesler – Kyle Palmieri
Andrew Cogliano – Rickard Rakell – Jakob Silfverberg
Emerson Etem – Devante Smith-Pelly – Nate Thompson
Cam Fowler – Sami Vatanen
Clayton Stoner – Josh Manson
Hampus Lindholm – Francois Beauchemin
Scratched: Mat Clark, Chris Wagner, Tim Jackman
Injured: Ben Lovejoy (finger), John Gibson (groin), Dany Heatley (groin), William Karlsson (flu)
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Radim Vrbata
Chris Higgins – Nick Bonino – Alexandre Burrows
Shawn Matthias – Brad Richardson – Zack Kassian
Derek Dorsett – Linden Vey – Jannik Hansen
Alexander Edler – Christopher Tanev
Luca Sbisa – Kevin Bieksa
Dan Hamhuis – Yannick Weber
Scratched: Bo Horvat, Ryan Stanton
Injured: Tom Sestito (groin)
Status report: If there was any surprise that Ducks defenseman Bryan Allen was set to sit out Thursday in favor of 23-year-old rookie Josh Manson, it ended when the Ducks traded Allen to the Montreal Canadiens for forward Rene Bourque. ... Vey is expected to return to Vancouver's fourth line after being a healthy scratch for the first time this season Wednesday against the Edmonton Oilers. "We expect him to be a big part of our team moving ahead so hopefully sitting out gave him a different look at the game and hopefully he comes back hard," coach Willie Desjardins said of Vey. That means Horvat, who has played six games this season, will be a healthy scratch after playing just 7:37 against the Oilers. … The Canucks swapped American Hockey League players with the Oilers on Thursday, sending left wing Kellan Lain to Edmonton for center Will Acton. Acton played three games with the Oilers this season and 30 last season. Lain played nine games for the Canucks last season, but none this season.
Who's hot: Daniel Sedin had three assists when Vancouver's top line combined for seven points against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday, including a pair of power-play goals from Vrbata that snapped Vancouver's 0-for-14 drought on the man advantage.