Ryan Kesler called last season painful and knew it was time for change. Nick Bonino is calling next season hopeful and knows versatility is his calling card.
In a perfect world, Bonino is probably a third-line NHL centre. But it’s not a perfect world in Vancouver and the Canucks are spinning into another orbit by clearing salary cap space and setting themselves up to hopefully be somewhat of a player in free agency and more competitive in the coming years.
So, for now, Bonino is the second-line centre to replace Kesler. Call him Kesler Light. The Canucks dealt their leading scorer to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday morning for Bonino, 26, defenceman Luca Sbisa, 24, and the 24th pick in the 2014 draft. They also swapped third-round picks and sent it to the New York Rangers for grinding winger Derek Dorsett. Not sure how all that is going to address a dire need for offence because the Canucks were ranked 26th on the power play and 28th offensively. But in Bonino they get a centre/winger with a high hockey I.Q. who can make smart plays, is good down low and scores clutch goals. He’s coming off a career high 22 goals this season and knows what to expect in the ultra-tough Pacific Division. He’s also a good cap fit at $1.9 million US the next three seasons, but he doesn’t have Kesler’s wheels or grit.
“I think all my life I would say I’ve never been a bad skater, but some guys skate real well and I’ve been one of those guys who gets by with his head and his hands,” said Bonino. “Trying to make plays, being responsible — that’s what I’ll keep trying to do.
“At this point in my career, I’ve kind of done whatever a team has needed me to do. I think every centre’s goal is to be as high on the depth chart as he can be, so I don’t want to say anything about where I’ll play in the lineup because that’s not for me to decide. You want to play and get ice time and this is a great opportunity for me.”
Especially with the Canucks trying to change their culture. They want to be skilled but also tougher to play against. Bonino, Dorsett and winger Linden Vey, 22, speak to that. Vey is a former 46-goal, 116-point WHL standout whom the Canucks got in the second round Saturday from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for the 50th pick they received from the Tampa Bay Lightning in an exchange package for Jason Garrison.
Dorsett and Vey were Medicine Hat Tigers teammates and played for new Canucks coach Willie Desjardins. Dorsett will irritate and check and bang and crash but has just 31 goals in 331 career NHL games. Vey is a late bloomer and played just 18 games with the ridiculously-deep Kings this season. The Canucks also added more size Saturday and general manager Jim Benning is clearly assembling that Boston Model he doesn’t really want to talk about. But why not? The Canucks need to get better, bigger and tougher but it won’t happen overnight. However, they’re trending in the right direction because Kesler clearly wanted out and waived his no-trade clause to go to a contender. He made it clear to Benning and never wavered from his agenda.
“Last year, that season was tough on all the players that play for the Canucks, and me no differently,” Kesler said. “I hate losing and that season was painful, to be honest. The fact that they (Canucks) are in a re-build and looking to get younger and are years away from being a contender, I think it was just time for me to move on and win and hopefully take home a championship.”
As for Bonino, knowing the 6-foot-1,186-pound centre played wing with Ryan Getzlaf and Cory Perry and played in the middle with a variety of wingers won’t hurt his transition to hockey-mad Vancouver. This isn’t his native Connecticut.
“I played the middle since high school and like it because you want to have your feet moving and go zero to 60 right away and that makes it easier for me to get around,” added Bonino. I played with Kyle Palmieri and Daniel Winnik in the playoffs and we switched it up a lot. There was some crazy stat about how I only had the same wingers eight per cent of the season — my highest frequency with the same guys. It was interesting.
“(Bruce) Boudreau liked to go on feel and who was playing well. He was pretty successful with it. And this is something I’ve wanted to do my whole life. It’s pretty cool to be living the dream out and now in Canada it’s just that much more intense.”
That’s putting it mildly. It won’t take long for fans to know his name and his game.
“Being a player, you want to be in a hockey market with a hockey atmosphere like it is in Vancouver,” said Bonino. “I’m very excited about it. We saw them (Canucks) a lot during the regular season and they were a gritty team and tough to play against. I know it’s a team with skill that didn’t have its best year and seeing what they’re trying to do — maybe go a little youthful and turn it around. To join that and know we’re in a tough division, it’s pretty exciting.”
© Copyright (c) The Province