Kesler better on third line


Ryan Kesler's cute little saucer pass, which set up Vancouver's first goal of the preseason in Edmonton on Monday, was a tease.


Ryan Kesler's cute little saucer pass, which set up Vancouver's first goal of the preseason in Edmonton on Monday, was a tease.

The hard-working centre, thought to have hands of granite, is steadily improving and, as he said before going to training camp and restated in Whistler, he wants to make the move beyond his status as outstanding third-line centre to the top six, replete with power-play time.

Not surprisingly, the Canucks want to his desire to improve as a player.

They need to give this type of player the opportunity to jump to that level. But this desire of Kesler's also presents a dilemma.

Firstly, if he makes the jump and perceives his role as scoring goals well as all his other duties including the penalty kill, will they lose the snarly third centre who scored 21 goals last season the old-fashioned way?

Along with the Sedins, Kesler's been one of the few constants up front on this team, his play in this role so valued he has vaulted into contention for captain in the minds of many. Do you risk losing that guy just to have a player in your top six and, if so, is it worth it?

If Kesler goes to the top six, what of the chemistry he has with Alex Burrows? Does Kesler making such a jump cost you a degree of Burrows' effectiveness into the bargain? Even if you think it might, at this point in the season, management can't afford to discourage that desire for self-improvement.

"I can see myself along the half-wall, or in front," said Kesler when asked specifically at which position on the power play he envisions success. "Basically, I think I could play any of the three spots.

"This may sound a little weird because I'm nowhere near his level, but basically I'd like to be like Jarome Iginla. He can score, play tough and get under people's skin, put in a lot of minutes and help his team in all areas of the game. That's what I'd like to do. I think I've improved my [offensive] skills."

Given the speed with which he jumped into that hole Monday and the finesse of the pass, he might be right. Time, and some power-play time with good players in the preseason, might tell the tale. There are those who'd argue there'd be no loss to the third line, given Ryan Johnson could well step into that role and not miss a beat.

But the above scenario is quite probably wishful thinking.

First of all, GM Mike Gillis has to be looking for a bona-fide top-six scorer with the money he has and he'd love to pull the trigger, just as he'd probably still be happy in the unlikely arrival of a "yes" from Mats Sundin. But even without those two eventualities, they probably have better fits in the top six than moving Kesler from where he's so strong if you look at the overall good of the team.

The solution lies in getting him an outstanding winger with whom he and Burrows -- assuming those two pick up where they left off in terms of chemistry -- can mesh. Get somebody who can fit in with the spirit of the line and yet has the ability to finish the work these two create. Then you have something. Then you're a three-line team with a chance to make significant progress.

That way, you don't lose Kesler's snarl, he's still encouraged to work on his offensive skills as his point totals climb and he can still have lots of energy left to make that big penalty kill or score that crucial goal in the third period of a 2-1 game.

In that situation, you're much more likely to have a high-level team and he can be financially rewarded in keeping with an exceptional contribution to a solid team which spends to the cap as any team in this market must.

Kesler may aspire to be like Iginla, and that's great. Wish this Canuck the best of luck.

But the more likely outcome is he goes from being a great third-line centre to a middle- of-the-road top- sixer? Is that the best way to improve the team? Is that going to get a character guy like Kesler the wins he want as a team player?

The degree to which Kesler appears to be growing is going to make this very interesting to follow for Canuck fans.

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They've gone viral, worldwide, with their Beer League Hockey bit.

Now the Kurtenblog boys -- Jason Brough and Mike Halford -- have done another "identify the species" post. Head to to see if you recognize the usual participants of the office hockey pool.

Like "Captain Play-it-Safe." Who's he, again? "As the name implies, Captain Play-it-Safe won't take too many chances in the pool. He picks North Carolina in March and likes Brazil for the World Cup. Play-it-Safe works in accounting, suggests Olive Garden for group lunches and drives a Nissan Micra. He'll finish fourth in every pool and be pleased to win his entry fee back. "Oh yeah, that guy!"

Do you have a few more classic office poolsters that we didn't cover? Let's hear 'em in the comments section.

And if you want to see the Beer Hockey League article, click on the KB's "August 2008" archives link.

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