Canucks C Kesler ready for first game
Ryan Kesler is healthy again and looking for another big year.
The Vancouver Canucks center, who scored 41 goals and won the Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward last season, declared himself ready to return Monday - almost three months after surgery to repair a torn hip labrum. He will play his first game of the season on Tuesday night against the New York Rangers.
''My hip is 100 percent,'' said Kesler, who won silver with Team USA at the 2010 Olympics. ''I'm definitely not going out there to limp into the lineup. ... I expect big things from myself.''
Kesler is a welcome addition to a 2-2-1 Canucks team that has struggled at times coming off the shortest offseason in franchise history. Vancouver lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals to Boston in mid-June.
Kesler has averaged 74 points the last two seasons as the Canucks' second-line center, and set a new career best for goals last year after moving onto the top power-play unit. He practiced in both roles Monday for the first time since rejoining the team on the ice 12 days ago.
Coach Alain Vigneault thinks it will take time for Kesler to get up to game speed after missing all of training camp, but doesn't expect the injury to be an issue.
''Ryan came to see me this morning and said he was 100 percent,'' Vigneault said. ''He assured me the injury was behind him and we weren't going to see him limping and we weren't going to see any `pain faces.' He's ready to go and we're going to put him in.''
The 27-year-old Kesler pulled up lame in the final game of the Western Conference final against San Jose and limped off the ice. He returned to score the tying goal in the final seconds, and played all seven games in the Stanley Cup final. But he wasn't the same, recording just one assist against the Bruins after seven goals and 18 points during his first 18 games of the playoffs.
Kesler, who is from Livonia, Mich., had similar hip surgery in 2007, but was back in the lineup for the playoffs just 10 weeks later. This recovery took more than two weeks longer.
''It definitely wasn't easier,'' Kesler said of being through the recovery once before. ''It's been a tough go seeing the team playing and things like that.
Kesler is expected to return with Cody Hodgson, the 10th overall pick in 2008, on one side, and Chris Higgins on the other at even strength. The Canucks sent defenseman Chris Tanev to the American Hockey League to clear roster space.