Ryan Kesler spent his first 10 NHL seasons as a key member of the Vancouver Canucks, and that’s precisely why the Anaheim Ducks wanted him.
A slew of absences may only increase his importance to the sputtering Ducks.
Kesler will face the Canucks for the first time since they traded him, as he tries to help Anaheim snap a home losing streak by continuing its dominance against his former team Sunday night.
Kesler was drafted 23rd overall by Vancouver in 2003, and became a mainstay as one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL, winning the Selke Trophy in 2011. He also collected 182 goals and 393 points, ranking third on the team over his tenure with the Canucks behind twins Henrik Sedin (738) and Daniel Sedin (708).
The center had 19 points in their run to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, but his time in Vancouver ended with 25 goals, 43 points and a minus-15 rating last season as the team missed the playoffs.
The Ducks acquired Kesler for center Nick Bonino, defenseman Luca Sbisa and two draft picks over the summer, and the veteran’s fondest memories center around reaching the Cup finals despite losing in seven games to Boston.
"Seeing how passionate that city was, and the fans, and the hundreds of thousands of people in the streets after every game sticks out," Kesler told the Ducks’ official website. "I was with the team for 11 years, and going through what I went through with them and that city, it’s going to be exciting."
Kesler has quickly made an impact with Anaheim (10-3-2), ranking third on the team with 10 points, five back of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Kesler, though, missed his shootout attempt Friday after getting an assist in regulation of a 3-2 loss to Arizona, the Ducks’ third straight home loss.
Anaheim may need more offensively from him as it tries to beat the Canucks (10-5-0) for the seventh straight meeting, and it’ll be without Perry – who is tied with Rick Nash of the New York Rangers with a league-leading 11 games – due to the flu.
The illness sidelined Getzlaf for one game, and defenseman Francois Beauchemin also is infected.
"There are always different variables to the flu," coach Bruce Boudreau told the team’s official website. "It depends on how bad (Beauchemin) gets it. We’ll see how he is when he wakes up."
The Ducks are also dealing with injuries to defensemen Ben Lovejoy (finger) and Mark Fistric (back) and goaltender John Gibson (groin), while Cam Fowler seems likely to return from a lower-body injury suffered Friday.
The Canucks are trying to bounce back from Saturday’s 5-1 defeat at Los Angeles after winning the first two of this four-game trip.
"We talked about (how) this trip would kind of show us where we’re at – and it’s shown us where we’re at," coach Willie Desjardins said. "We’re not good enough right now, and we have to get better. There’s a difference when teams are really ready for you and when they’re not, and we’re getting teams that are really ready for us."
Like Kesler, Bonino has settled in to his new surroundings rather well. He leads the Canucks with seven goals but was held off the score sheet Saturday after finding the net three times in the two prior games.
The Canucks may turn to Eddie Lack after Ryan Miller made 18 saves against the Kings to end his seven-game winning streak.
Lack, though, is 0-3-0 with a 4.09 goals-against average in five games – three starts – this season, and he owns a 3.81 GAA while losing all five starts (0-4-1) versus Anaheim.