ANAHEIM, Calif. – Ryan Kesler and his family are slowly getting used to the ocean view at their new home, and the Anaheim Ducks’ new centre still has to remind himself he can go to the rink in flip-flops.
Oh, the sacrifices necessary to contend for a Stanley Cup.
Kesler formally got to work Thursday with the Ducks, who acquired the vaunted centre from Vancouver on draft day. After spending his entire 11-year NHL career with the Canucks, he’s meeting new teammates and familiarizing himself with Anaheim’s coaching staff while his kids start at a new school.
“You go from (being) one of the veterans that have been around a while to (being) the new guy,” Kesler said at Honda Center on the first day of training camp. “First time in a while being the new guy—11 years, actually. So it’s a little different. But the guys have been great, have taken me in. It’s a great group of guys, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Kesler is the Ducks’ new second-line centre, and Anaheim hopes the former U.S. Olympian is the missing piece to a championship puzzle. The two-time Pacific Division champions had the NHL’s second-best record last season, but lost in the second round to the hard-nosed Los Angeles Kings.
Kesler understands his role as a bruising two-way forward who can shoulder many responsibilities that fell last season to Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf, the runner-up for the Hart Trophy.
“Kes, he’s a great player,” Getzlaf said. “He’s proven it in this league, and any time you have that depth down the middle, it helps. I’ve played enough minutes against him (to know) he’s hard to play against. He frustrates you, but I think he’s developed over the years as a player and focused on the hockey side.”
Kesler should match up against opponents’ top lines and take key faceoffs, creating more offensive opportunities for Getzlaf while still providing consistent scoring of his own. General manager Bob Murray acquired Kesler to add size, strength and toughness to the Ducks, who appear better equipped to match up with the Western Conference’s best lineups.
Kesler said he looks forward to “being the No. 2 guy behind Getzlaf, just taking some of the offensive pressure off him, but definitely the defensive pressures that he had in the past. Hopefully, we can be a one-two punch that’s dominant. I think we know the division we’re in and how strong it is, definitely the strongest in the league. We’re going to have to be ready for this.”
The Ducks gave up dependable centre Nick Bonino in the trade for Kesler, but coach Bruce Boudreau firmly backed Murray’s plan to bulk up down the middle with Getzlaf, Kesler and third-line centre Nate Thompson, acquired from Tampa Bay.
“You have two big centermen (who can) go against anybody,” Boudreau said. “They’re guys that have been on their countries’ teams and know how to play. Kesler has been to the finals. Getzlaf has won the Cup. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Bonino, but you’ve got two big, bona fide No. 1’s here.”
Kesler has been within one game of a championship, but the Canucks lost Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals at home to Boston. He decided he couldn’t stick around for Vancouver’s wholesale rebuilding effort, and he waived his no-trade clause to join the Ducks.
But Kesler will always feel warmly about Vancouver. The Canucks visit Anaheim on Nov. 9, and Kesler returns to Rogers Arena on Nov. 20.
“The 10, 11 years I was there, what a good time,” Kesler said. “There was rarely any bad times. I had a lot of good teammates over the years, even going back to Trevor Linden and Markus Naslund. That’s the hardest part, is leaving your friends and kind of moving on from them. But that’s the great thing about technology. You can still keep in touch, and we’re already chirping each other about (Nov. 9). Can’t wait for that day.”