The 2003 NHL Entry Draft featured a first round that may be arguably the best draft class in NHL history. With names like Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Brent Burns, Thomas Vanek, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown all going in the first round, it's Ryan Kesler, a Michigan native and Ohio State Buckeye, that the Vancouver Canucks took at number 23.
Kesler has never played for any other NHL team in his career, but at times he seemingly was trying to do anything to get out. After his entry level contract expired, Kesler refused to sign a qualifying deal offered by the Canucks. He then became a Restricted Free Agent and signed a $1.9 million offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers in 2006. The Canucks matched the offer and Kesler stayed in Vancouver. In 2007, Kesler signed a three-year $5.25 million extension as Canucks mainstays, Markus Naslund, Trevor Linden, and Brendan Morrison departed.
Then the 2010 Vancouver Olympics happened.
Ryan Kesler's defensive style of play frustrated the stars of Switzerland, Finland, and Canada all the way to the gold medal game in which Team USA lost in overtime. He was proficient in the face-off dots and great on special teams.
His rise during the Olympics turned into a six-year $30 million extension with the Canucks. After losing to the Boston Bruins in 2011 Stanley Cup Final, the spiral downward for the Canucks had begun. In the 2013 offseason, Vancouver fired head coach Alain Vigneault and hired John Tortorella, who was recently canned by the New York Rangers.
The Torotrella-led Canucks team didn't take to the Tortorella system quickly, they scuffled all season long, was mired in controversy with the head coach starting fights in the hallways in between periods, and the team's biggest stars - Roberto Luongo and Kesler - were asking to be traded by the trade deadline. Luongo got out, but it was harder to find a partner for Kesler.
With 2 years left on his six-year $30 million contract, trading Kesler proved to be more difficult.
His defensive prowess, face-off domination, and his willingness to frustrate and agitate the opposition may be just what the Wild is missing. He has a level of grit and physicality that would play well in Minnesota, and he knows how to score. In his past seven years with Vancouver, his shooting percentage hasn't dipped below 9.9 percent - and that was in his '11-'12 campaign.
Kesler has been getting tough minutes and a majority of defensive zone starts, but yet is still a positive possession player. In 2013-14, Kesler received more starts in the defensive zone at 48.1 ZS% and was a 52.4 percent in Corsi For. He was scoring at a rate of 1.29 points per 60 minutes this past season on an awful Canucks team that ended up spiraling out of control and missing the playoffs.
Special Teams Efficiency
He also wreaks havoc on the power play for goalies and defenses alike. He likes to battle hard in front of the net and screen goalies. The 6-foot 2-inch 202 pound forward has good speed and a good wrist shot from the right side at his disposal. Having another righty in Yeo's arsenal can only benefit as the head coach works the match-ups. Plus, his desire to outwork his opponents would fit in well with the type of attitude and culture Chuck Fletcher and Mike Yeo are trying to foster in Minnesota.
Kesler scored double-digit power play goals three times in his 10 year career. He has a career total of 124 points on the man advantage. But he is on a team that featured the Sedin twins and Markus Naslund throughout the balance of his career so scoring chances tend to get funneled to the big snipers. Since the '04-'05 lockout, Kesler finished third on the team in points, right behind the Sedins, four times and five times in the top four.
Vancouver was ranked in the top 10 for the penalty kill the last four seasons and Kesler was a big part of those PK units. In this last season, which could be due to the diminishing talent on Vancouver and Tortorella's system, he was on the ice for 19 power play goals against. However, if you look back in years prior, he was on the ice for only three power play goals against in 2013 and nine power play goals against in 2011-12.
The 29 year old forward would be a good fit in a third line role on the Wild as he would be able to take on the tough minutes on even strength and on the penalty kill and still drive possession. You could place him next to Matt Cooke and Erik Haula. Right there, you'd have a fast, gritty, agitating line with two guys that can take face-offs and provide a real scoring threat.
This is what I could see the lines being if the Wild acquired Ryan Kesler:
Parise - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville
Nino Niederreiter - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle
Matt Cooke - Haula/Kesler - Haula/Kesler
Cody McCormick - Kyle Brodziak - Bret Bulmer
On the PK you could use Cooke and Haula on one unit, and Brodziak and Kesler on the other unit, essentially giving your top guys a respite during traditionally tough minutes.
All Said and Done
In the end, acquiring a Ryan Kesler would take a lot of assets as trading him would most certainly mean a rebuilding era for Vancouver. It would also necessitate at least $5 million in available cap space for two more years, which could ruin chances for the Wild to hold on to their young players. The Ducks are rumored to be the front-runners for Kesler, but that doesn't mean the Wild still can't be ambitious and make a move for him either. He has the type of persona that I think would fit into the Wild locker room and culture. Not to mention his international play with USA teammates, Parise and Suter. But if the Wild were to somehow add Kesler to their current lineup, this team would be a machine that out works every opponent every night.