VANCOUVER - Ryan Kesler has not lost his ability to mess with the media. The Vancouver Canucks hope he's also still got his scoring touch.
Kesler played coy Thursday about his chances of returning for Friday's home game against the Dallas Stars. But minutes after Kesler insisted his return was far from a given, coach Alain Vigneault confirmed the Canucks will indeed get their No. 2 centre back Friday.
"He has been medically cleared to play, he looks real good on the ice, he was playing on a regular line today at practice and he was taking a regular shift on one of the power-play units," Vigneault said. "I'll let you guys figure it out."
Told that Kesler was being, well, Kesler, and refusing to say if he was playing, Vigneault added: "All indications are he is ready to go. So unless something changes from here to tomorrow . . ."
Kesler practised on a line Thursday with Zack Kassian and Chris Higgins. He also worked on the first-unit power play with the Sedins, Alex Burrows and Alex Edler.
"Him and Chris in the past have played good hockey together and I like the way Zack is playing right now," Vigneault said. "That is a big line, it's a line that brings a physical dimension plus real good puck pursuit, plays with really good speed. We'll see how it looks tomorrow."
That combination also allows Vigneault to keep Jordan Schroeder, Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen together on what has been an effective line.
"There is a lot of speed on that line, a lot of skill on that line and defensively they have been reliable so we'll obviously stick with that for now," Vigneault said.
Kesler has not played in nearly 10 months, He had shoulder surgery last spring and then subsequently underwent wrist surgery.
"Why would you say that," was Kesler's reply earlier in the afternoon when it was suggested to him that it looked like he would play Friday. "There's still no timeline. I still feel good out there, but no time line."
Kesler continued to play a game of cat and mouse with the media for the next 10 minutes.
"Is tomorrow (Friday) a possibility?" Kesler said, repeating a question. "Like I said, I don't know why you guys are asking all these questions. . .like I said it's another step towards playing."
There's more, lots more, but we'll spare you the details.
Kesler's return further strengthens a Canuck team that has won six straight games. A terrific two-way player, Kesler often logs more minutes than any other Canuck forward, although Vigneault said he will try and monitor his minutes Friday.
"He's extremely fit," Vigneault said. "The injuries that he had have enabled him to work out quite a bit. Initially, it was supposed to be five months and I think we are closing in on nine or 10 months here, so he's been working out extremely hard with our staff and conditioning people and is in great shape.
"That being said, we'll have to see how he looks tomorrow on the ice. Practising and playing are not the same. He has looked extremely good in practices, all the drills we have had him do we have done at full pace with real strong execution so we'll feel out the game tomorrow and see how he is doing. My initial thoughts are to keep the minutes reasonable and maybe not as high as he has been. He has been the forward playing the most minutes per game. I would say don't expect that tomorrow. We'll see what happens."
With Kesler back and the departure of Manny Malhotra, Max Lapierre will slide down to centre the fourth line between Dale Weise and Aaron Volpatti.
Kesler's production dropped quite dramatically last season. He followed up his 41-goal, 73-point season in 2010-11, when he was named winner of the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward, with 22 goals and 49 points last season. Kesler was bothered by a bad shoulder for much of last season.
His return leaves winger David Booth (groin) as the only injured Canuck. Booth has resumed practising with the team, but has not yet been cleared for full contact.
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