Kesler ready for season debut

Ryan Kesler. (ERIC BOLTE/QMI Agency)

Ryan Kesler. (ERIC BOLTE/QMI Agency)

HOSEA CHEUNG, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:19 PM ET

VANCOUVER - Even before Ryan Kesler made it official, all signs at practice Monday pointed to the Vancouver Canucks centre returning to action for the first time since off-season hip surgery.

Kesler skated on the second line, bumping rookie Cody Hodgson to the right wing while Chris Higgins joined them on the left. He reclaimed his position on the power play unit, anchoring himself in front of the goal while the Sedins cycled the puck. Most notably, perhaps, defenceman Chris Tanev was missing, later announced by the team that he had been sent down to the AHL Chicago Wolves, clearly to make room on the roster.

If all that wasn't enough, of course, the Selke trophy winner confirmed afterwards he's ready to suit up at home against the New York Rangers Tuesday.

"My hip is 100% and I'm not going to go out there and limp into the lineup," said Kesler, who has missed five regular season games. "I expect big things from myself and obviously I want my minutes. It has been a long time coming and I'm excited about the opportunity."

A vocal leader on and off the ice, Kesler's presence gives the 2-2-1 team a major boost. One area clearly missing the star defensive forward's presence is the team's struggling penalty kill, currently ranked 25th in the NHL with a 76% efficiency rate. While his return will improve the club throughout, Kesler is more so looking forward to just being part of the group again.

"Obviously skating with the team the past little bit here it's been good for me hockey-wise and mentally-wise," he said. "It's good to get back in the game-day routines and going to war with these guys."

The Michigan native, who had a career-high 41 goals last season, also gives the Canucks three natural centres on the second line. That will allow the trio to be more aggressive in the face-off circle and sport an even more defensive mentality.

"It won't change too much. You just got to make the right plays," said Higgins, who played alongside Kesler during most of last season's playoff run. "Cody (Hodgson) was playing centre for the first couple games so it might take a shift or two to feel comfortable on the wing, but he'll be hustling back to the defensive zone like a centremen does."

Hodgson, on his part, has played wing before, most recently in the minors last season. This year, he has looked confident centring the second unit, with one goal, an assist, and 15 shots in the first five games.

"Any time you get a high-calibre player back, it's fun and to be able to play in the same line is pretty cool," the 21-year-old said. "I'm pretty comfortable playing that position, it shouldn't be a hard adjustment."

RANGERS IN TOWN

The New York Rangers are seeking their first win of the season coming into Vancouver.

With a 0-1-2 record in tow, the Original Six team's most recent defeat came at the hands of the New York Islanders Saturday, losing 4-2 and compiling a season-total 0-for 12 on the power play in the process.

Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa expects a somewhat desperate side.

"Until they get (their first win), they are going to be coming as hard as they can and they are probably feeling the heat," Bieksa said. "We're in the same boat. We're trying to get going here."


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