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Vancouver Gamebreaker: Ryan Kesler

by Dave Lozo
One of the most memorable moments of the 2010 Winter Olympics was Ryan Kesler's all-out effort and acrobatic empty-net goal that sealed a 5-3 victory for Team USA against Canada during the preliminary round. 

Kesler blocked countless shots and came up big in crunch time in a game he guaranteed the U.S. team would win. It's that sort of toughness, brashness and ability that have come to the forefront for the Vancouver Canucks this season and resulted in Kesler receiving a six-year contract extension through 2015-16.

"Ryan Kesler has excelled as a two-way player and in his role as an alternate captain," Canucks GM Mike Gillis said. "Ryan has showcased his ability to perform under extreme pressure and we are looking forward to continuing to see Ryan develop into one of the League's premier players."

Kesler's took his game to new heights this season, and he could be the difference between the Canucks failing to get past the second round for the fourth time in five seasons and winning a Stanley Cup.

"He's right up there with (Roberto Luongo) and (Daniel and Henrik Sedin) as the backbone of our organization."
-- Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa

The 25-year-old center from Livonia, Mich., had a career-high 75 points in 82 games. It's the best total on the Canucks among players not named Sedin. He's second among forwards on the team with 73 blocked shots, and his 2:39 of shorthanded ice time per game ranks third among Canucks forwards.

Just like at the Olympics, Kesler can do it all.

"He's right up there with (Roberto Luongo) and (Daniel and Henrik Sedin) as the backbone of our organization," defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "I've been with 'Kes' for about six years now and seen him grow from the minors into playing on the third or fourth line to being one of the best players on the team. He's had tremendous growth over the past five or six years, he's a great player, huge in the dressing room, and we're all very happy for him."

"He's always had a good skill set of speed, puck control, a good shot, and a willingness to do the harder things like go to the tougher areas and block the shots," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "I think every year he's progressed and he's one of the best two-way players in the League."

Not only is Kesler reliable defensively and a threat offensively, he also has a sandpaper quality to his game. He possesses the ability to get under the skin of opponents, a quality that can come in handy during the playoffs.

"You'd rather have him on your team than against you," Luongo said. "He gets underneath players' skin and gets them off their game and those are little things that you don't notice, but they are very effective when he does that."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter at: @DLozoNHL

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