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Kesler returns to Canucks lineup against Coyotes

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks will welcome Ryan Kesler back from a broken foot Monday when the team faces against the Phoenix Coyotes.

They're just not entirely sure what Kesler they'll get after being off skates for a month.

Kesler has played just seven games all season, missing the start recovering from offseason wrist and shoulder surgeries only to break a bone in his foot blocking a shot in his Feb 15 return. He played six more games before the fracture turned up in a CT scan, and he couldn't skate until late last week.

"I'm not exactly sure what we're going to get back, to tell you the truth," coach Alain Vigneault said. "He's been off skates for quite some time, but like they used to do in the old days, we are going to play him into shape."

Vigneault pledged not to overuse his Selke Trophy-winning center, saying he would limit Kesler to a regular shift and not use him in his usual spots on the penalty kill and as the net-front presence on a struggling power play.

Kesler, who is used to leading the team's forwards in ice time, said he is OK with that.

"I'm not expecting to come in and be a savior or a hero, I am coming in to find my game and help my team," Kesler said. "Obviously I'm a competitive guy and it's tough to see your teammates go out there and compete night in and night out, that was the hardest thing. It's a little easier watching them win than lose."

Vancouver's chances of doing more of the latter improve with Kesler back.

In addition to being able to go against and shut down the opponent's top lines, Kesler helps an offense that was struggling before the trade-deadline addition of center Derek Roy. Kesler had 75 points three seasons ago, and scored 41 goals to go with 72 points when he won the Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward in 2011. His production fell to 22 goals and 49 points last season as he

tried to play through wrist and shoulder injuries that required summer surgery.

Kesler had a goal and four assists in seven games this season, but played most of that with the broken foot. The game Thursday against Phoenix will be just the second in more than a calendar year that he's played completely healthy.

"Other than breathing a little heavy, my body has never felt better," he said.

Kesler has 10 games left before the Stanley Cup Playoffs to get his legs back and find his game. The bigger challenge for a player that once seriously asked Canucks trainers to cut off a broken finger rather than miss more time after he'd worked hard to come back from hip surgery in time for the playoffs, has been waiting to come back.

"It's been a tough year so far," Kesler said. "Mentally exhausting. It's been a learning experience. I've learned a lot about my body. I am more mentally aware of my body and what I need to do to keep it 100 percent. Everything is an experience -- positive and negative -- and you've got learn from it."

If Kesler has learned how to stay healthy, that will be a big positive for the Canucks.

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