Canucks Watch: Kesler enters debate of best center from '03 draft - The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated

Canucks Watch: Kesler enters debate of best center from '03 draft

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It’s hard to believe that, after five full NHL seasons, Ryan Kesler started the 2010-11 campaign without a hat trick in his career.

Then on Dec. 15 against Columbus Kesler hit the trifecta on four shots and, less than a month later, did it again against the Edmonton Oilers. Making the trick against Edmonton all the more impressive is the fact Kesler played only 15:29 – his lowest total of the season - as coach Alain Vigneault gave others ice time during the blowout.

The fact Kesler did it against two struggling teams is irrelevant. Renowned for his defensive play and a Selke Trophy nominee last season, Kesler has arrived as a goal scorer as well. While getting a lot of power play time with the Sedins certainly helps in that department, the Canucks’ efficiency with the man advantage has surged by more than four points over last season and is now the best in the league, thanks in large part to Kesler’s emergence.

Last season, Kesler saw his point production leap from 59 to 75, which made everyone in the hockey world’s head turn. A lot of that had to do with the 50 helpers he chipped in to Mason Raymond’s breakout season and Mikael Samuelsson’s career year – Kesler had more points than both, but not more goals.

But now he’s sitting second on the team behind Daniel Sedin with 23 markers heading into Tuesday’s game with the Islanders. While it’ll be an uphill battle to overtake the twins for the team points lead, Kesler may yet end up as the team’s big scorer.

Standing at 6-foot-2, 202 pounds, Kesler is one of a few power centers to come out of the 2003 draft. Boston’s Nathan Horton, Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter and Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf were all selected before Kesler, while the Flyers’ Mike Richards went one pick after. Three of those four are considered mainstays on Canadian international teams for years to come.

But while Carter, Richards and Getzlaf get the ink, Kesler – picked 23rd overall - may soon eclipse them as the best to come from that draft. There is little doubt Kesler has already passed Horton and when you look at the numbers, he is closer to the other three than you may think.

Carter peaked with 46 goals and 84 points in 2008-09, but dipped the following year and hasn’t recovered to that pace so far this season. Getzlaf posted 91 points in 2008-09, but his career-high 25 goals aren’t other-worldy and his production has also come down. Richards’ 30 goals and 80 points in 2008-09 were his best before he fell off by 18 points a year later as well.

When you consider Kesler is on pace to hit 80 points and approach 50 goals from the second line this year, plus tack on his defensive acumen, you can make a strong case for No. 17. Carter, Getzlaf and Richards all hit high marks and immediately regressed from them, but Kesler, himself an Olympian for the Americans, hasn’t seen a drop in production from one full NHL season to the next yet.

With Carter’s natural talent for goals sure to come back to him, Getzlaf’s dominating physical force sure to continue aiding him in the points department throughout his career and Richards’ responsibility at both ends sure to keep him as a key figure in Philadelphia, this is a debate in its infancy stages.

But Kesler is putting himself in the mix and there’s no reason to believe he’s going anywhere soon.

This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.