ANAHEIM -- The incredulous look came across Ryan Kesler’s face when he was asked how quickly he checked the 2014-15 NHL schedule after he was traded to the Anaheim Ducks, as if someone questioned his competitiveness.
Yes, the first game against his former team, the Vancouver Canucks, on Sunday at Honda Center (9 p.m. ET; CITY, PRIME), has been on his radar for a long time.
“I’m a competitive guy. I want to win. Obviously I want to have success against that team,” Kesler said.
“You have friends over there and, for me, I’m pretty competitive against my friends at home. So that’s going to be maybe some bragging rights over them. But it’s two points, and we need it. It would be different against other teams, but for me it’s more personal.”
Kesler sounded amped up and used an unprintable phrase to describe his enthusiasm, then went on to say, “There’s no calming me down [Sunday]. I might need a couple of days off [afterward].”
Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau won’t attempt to rein in Kesler’s emotions. It is a triple reunion because Vancouver center Nick Bonino and defenseman Luca Sbisa will return to Anaheim for the first time since the Ducks acquired Kesler and a third-round selection in the 2015 NHL Draft for Bonino, Sbisa and first-round and third-round picks in the 2014 draft.
Center - ANA
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 10
SOG: 44 | +/-: -3
“Knowing [Bonino] and Sbisa, they’ll want to play as hard for those guys, and knowing our guys, they’ll want to play hard for [Kesler],” Boudreau said. “I think it should make for a really good game.
“I’m sure the chirping is going to come because you make so many long lasting friends on other teams.”
But this storyline is clearly about Kesler, who prefers not to talk about the sour end to his Vancouver career but the good memories he had there professionally and personally.
Kesler spent more than a decade in Vancouver, from his NHL debut at age 19 to 29. His popularity reached its peak when the Canucks got to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Kesler won the Selke Trophy not long afterward. His son, Ryker, was born in Vancouver, and he keeps in touch with some of the Canucks.
“I went there when I was 18 years old and now I’m 30,” Kesler said. “That’s a long time. That’s basically my whole young adulthood. I went there as a single guy and I left with three kids and wife. A lot has changed in my life, and I’m excited for [Sunday] night.”
Kesler spoke to a half-dozen reporters, which constitutes a big scrum in Anaheim. There are about three or four beat writers who cover the Ducks on a daily basis; two of those travel with the team. In other words, it’s an alternate universe compared to the intensity of Vancouver.
That’s partly what attracted Kesler to Anaheim, although he playfully downplayed that aspect.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “The media up there is large and pretty intense, but they’re all good guys, just like you guys, right?”
Kesler smiled as he said it. His relationship with the Vancouver media devolved at the end, and he drew anger from Canucks fans for denying reports that he made a trade request. It’s a different dynamic in Anaheim because he can defer to captain Ryan Getzlaf, who deals with the media more, especially during rough spells.
The two take pressure off each other in that way. They’re also cut from the same fabric in their approach.
“He’s brought a lot to our table,” Getzlaf said. “He plays hard every night, and he adds in to what we believe in here. We’ve been developing that winning mentality for the last 10 years. We want to win every night, and he’s the same kind of player.”
Ducks left wing Kyle Palmieri hasn’t played this season but he can feel Kesler’s competitiveness in the room.
“He wants to win and you see it every time,” Palmieri said. “After a loss in that locker room, he’s one of the guys that’s hardest on himself and he expects to win and he came here to win. That kind of attitude and leadership he brings from him just being in the league for so long – it’s one of those intangibles that people talk about … it’s one of those things that brings a positive impact in our locker room.”
Kesler and Getzlaf take impact off each other on the ice. Kesler’s ice average time is down, from 21:49 last season to 20:04; Getzlaf’s from 21:17 to 20:31 and Corey Perry’s from 19:21 to 18:35. Think quality over quantity, although Kesler puts it in other words.
“With Getzy and I, we hold ourselves to a high standard and we want to push each other,” Kesler said. “Not so much taking off pressure, but help each other out and made the team on the other side pick which one they’re going to match up against rather than only having to match up against him. They’re going to have to choose now. If we can get our line going like we have been the past couple of games, it’s going to be scary.”
Bonino has actually outscored Kesler. But it’s early, and Kesler has not had consistent linemates because of injuries and lineup changes.
“That part’s hard – mentally and cognitively – to get used to that many players,” Kesler said. “But I’m starting to find a groove here and it feels good.”