Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler is expected to miss the start of the season for the second consecutive year after undergoing surgery in May. It's fair to ask if he'll ever get back to being the dominant two-way pivot he was two seasons ago, when he scored 41 goals and won the Selke Trophy.
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"I think he can be, but you've got to give his body a chance to follow his will and heart," NHL Network analyst and former Flames general manager Craig Button told NHL.com. "You're never going to question Kesler's determination to be an impact player, but if the body can't follow he's just not going to be the same player."
A year ago, Kesler was rehabbing during the summer after having labrum surgery on his hip. He missed the first five games of the season and later admitted he returned too soon. Making matters worse was the shoulder injury he incurred Feb. 9 -- an injury that basically stopped his productivity dead in its tracks.
After managing 18 goals and 20 assists through 49 games, Kesler had four goals and seven assists in the final 28 regular-season games. He did not score against the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and soon after the Canucks were eliminated, Kesler had surgery that is expected to keep him out until mid-November.
"I think in all likelihood if the season started on time he probably wouldn't be ready, but I also think we'd have to see how he reacted to contact and different things that you don't see until you get into training camp," Canucks general manager Mike Gillis told NHL.com. "He's doing very well, he's on schedule, and there is a remote possibility if season started on time he might be ready, but in all likelihood he wouldn't."
Gillis said Jordan Schroeder, the Canucks' first-round pick (No. 22) in the 2009 NHL Draft, will compete to be the No. 2 center until Kesler returns.
Last season, Kesler struggled through Christmas, and when it appeared he was finally in a groove, scoring goals and playing his hard two-way game, he ripped up his shoulder and wasn't the same.
"When you miss training camp you're really behind. It's difficult to get going in season and it often takes some time," Gillis said. "There is a build-up that happens in training camp. The exhibition games don't have the emotional highs that a regular-season game has, and that's done because guys are realizing that it's to get ready for the regular season. When you miss all that time it can be challenging to get back and get going the way you want. But I think Ryan is going to be back and be fine."
Center - VAN
GOALS: 22 | ASST: 27 | PTS: 49
SOG: 222 | +/-: 11
Vancouver won the Presidents' Trophy last season without Kesler at his best, but it was run over by the Kings in the playoffs, when Kesler was playing injured. He was also playing injured in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, and the Canucks couldn't withstand the pressure the Boston Bruins put on over a seven-game series.
"With medical procedures and advancements the players can all come back, but you have to evaluate the player in the manner with which he plays," Button said. "You're better off with Ryan to hold him back and get him back a week later rather than a week sooner because he doesn't know any other way to play.
"I have no question if he's healthy he can get back to that elite level. But he needs his body to be at a level commensurate with his heart."