Kesler shows some offensive spark

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

Expectations were high for Ryan Kesler when he was drafted in the first round by the Vancouver Canucks.

Kesler, 21, was the Canucks' first-pick (23rd overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. This season, his second in Vancouver, the six-foot-two, 205-pound centre has eight goals and nine assists in 69 games, after scoring Vancouver's third goal last night.

"I started the season off a little slow," Kesler said. "But I'm definitely happy with the way I'm playing right now."

Last year in the American Hockey League, the native of Livonia, Michigan, scored 30 goals and had 28 assists in 78 games with the Manitoba Moose.

"He's improving," said Canucks' head coach Marc Crawford. "Ryan has made a big step from the American League where he was a premier player last year and he played premier minutes, to this year, trying to understand where he fits in.

"That's always the case with a young player. There are always challenges with acceptance and understanding their role."

Kesler, a product of U.S. college hockey, chose to forgo his last two years at the University of Ohio to turn pro.

He was a member of the U.S. World Junior team that won gold in 2004 in Helsinki, Finland, scoring the tying goal against Canada in the final en route to a 4-3 win.

Currently on the Canucks third line with Matt Cooke and Todd Bertuzzi, Kesler has been asked to take on a checking role this season.

"He's done a real good job for us killing penalties," Crawford said. "He's seen very limited time on the power play.

"Last year when he came to the rink, he was in everything. That's the American League level. You have to bide your time, pay your dues and continue to improve to get that type of opportunity at the National Hockey League level."

With the Canucks' recent struggles, Kesler got to play between Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund. However, Brendan Morrison was back between the two last night.

"That was awesome," Kesler said. "They're so skilled, they make the game so much easier out there. It's just a privilege to play with those guys and try and make something happen."

The Canucks are willing to be patient with Kesler as he gets more familiar with the league. Eventually, they would like to see the scoring touch he displayed in the AHL.

"He had great offensive stats in a very good American League last year and we foresee that he'll continue to improve his offensive instincts," Crawford said.

"With any young player, you want them to keep striving to get more, to grasp more, to want more. We see that happening with Ryan. He understands that he has to play with a certain edge to his game.

"It has to be a controlled edge and he has to continue to work on his offensive part of the game."


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