Earlier this week, RLD was fortunate enough to talk with Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler. We caught up on how his off-season has been going, and got his thoughts on a variety of topics.
RLD: How’s your off-season going, and are you itching for the season to start? Ryan Kesler: Off-season’s going well. I’ve spent it in Michigan, and it’s been some good down time, but I’m definitely itching to get the season back started. It’s been a while since I put on that Canucks sweater, and I’m really itching to get back going again.
RLD: How often do you get on the ice in the off-season? Ryan Kesler: I’m one of the earlier guys on the ice. I start around July 20th and skate three days a week for a couple weeks, then go to four days a week, and now this is my first week skating five days a week. So from now until the start of training camp I’ll be on the ice five days a week.
RLD: What’s it like to be on the cover of NHL 2K11? Ryan Kesler: It’s pretty cool. I just got done doing an RV stop in Detroit. Seeing your face on a video game cover and on the front of an RV is pretty surreal. Especially being a video game guy growing up, it’s something you always dream of and never think it’s going to happen… and that moment’s right there in front of you, so it’s a pretty cool feeling.
RLD: How much time do you put in to working with NHL 2K11? Is it a couple times during the summer, or a lot more work than people think? Ryan Kesler: I think a lot more work goes into the game than people think. They are really good at crunching my time down, so when they do have me I’m busy all the time. It’s not too much… I think this summer, maybe made four or five trips, a couple days apiece. I may have to do some interviews here and there during the season. But other than that, they are very respectful of my time and it’s cool. I don’t mind doing the stuff; the stuff they have me doing, I’m very into. I want to be a big part of the game and make it the best I can.
RLD: I don’t know if you’ve seen this yet, but in The Hockey News annual season preview, they picked the Canucks to win the Cup this year. Do you welcome that challenge and notoriety, or would you rather fly under the radar? Ryan Kesler: To be honest, I welcome it. If people say we’re going to win and we’re the team to beat, then we better play like it. I don’t know if they’ve ever been right with those predictions or not, but it’s something that we know in that locker room that we have something special in there and this is our chance. You only have a couple years in this league when you have a good core group of players, and I feel like in the next couple years – if not, this year – we should win the Stanley Cup.
RLD: Is this upcoming season your best chance to win the Cup? Ryan Kesler: For me, yeah I think it is. I think it is my best chance so far in my career to win the Stanley Cup. It’s the hardest trophy in sports to win, and you need a lot of things to go right. You need a healthy team that catches on fire, you need a goaltender that catches on fire, and you need everyone playing at a high speed. If you don’t have that, your catches go down of winning it drastically.
RLD: What goes through your mind when you see your postseason nemesis – Chicago – trade away/lose almost half of their roster this summer? Ryan Kesler: Not a whole lot, to be honest. They are still a very good team. They signed a very good goaltender. They did lose half their team, but I believe they are still a contender to go far. Obviously they are not going to be as deep as they were last year. I just hope we face them again and do what they did to us the last two years.
RLD: What do you guys need to do to beat them in the playoffs, if you face them again in the future? Ryan Kesler: Stick to the game plan would come to mind… and just win. It’s not an easy game, but it’s an easy game to play when you play your system and you stick to the game plan. We didn’t do that last year.
RLD: This past year, did you notice anything different in Henrik Sedin’s game or work ethic that led him to winning the Hart Trophy? Ryan Kesler: No. I just think every year those guys (Henrik and Daniel) get better and better. I’ve seen them grow from second-line players to first-line players to superstars. Especially when Daniel was out of the lineup, Hank really took the bull by the horns and just drove this team. I think he got out of the shadow of ‘they’re only good when they’re together’… ‘cause you hear that a lot, and I’ve never thought that. I’ve always thought that they are very good hockey players and superstars in their own right. For him to go out and win the Hart when his brother missed 30 games, I think, is pretty special. We with the Canucks know how good these two are; they’re very hard workers, they’re very good guys. For him to finally let the league see how good they are by winning the scoring title and the Hart, it’s pretty cool. It is well deserved.
RLD: When they are on the ice (Henrik and Daniel), and you are sitting on the bench, do you marvel at their ability to cycle, etc? It’s almost like they have eyes in the back of their heads… Ryan Kesler: Yeah they are fun to watch. We have the best seat in the house when we’re sitting on the bench. You try to learn from guys like that. For me, I always try to learn because once you stop learning and stop getting better as a hockey player you’re not going to be in the league much longer. Watching those guys day in and day out in practice and games, and seeing how they conduct themselves, is something I try to mold myself after.
RLD: Roberto Luongo has taken some heat over the last year for being the captain. From firsthand experience, does a goaltender wearing the ‘C’ work compared to a position player with the captaincy? Ryan Kesler: Yeah, I think it does. From the outside, people might think it’s a little different; but in the locker room, he’s (Luongo) very respected by the guys. It’s a little weird not seeing the ‘C’ on anybody’s jersey after Markus (Naslund) left. But at the same time, Roberto’s a great guy and a big leader and big part of our team. I’m really upset he’s taken a lot of heat for this.
RLD: So you feel if anyone is saying ‘Luongo would be a better player without the ‘C’ and the Canucks may go deeper in the playoffs’ they are going overboard if they’re saying that about Luongo? Ryan Kesler: Yeah, I think he likes the pressure. People who say that really don’t know him as a person or a player. He likes challenges like that, and he really likes being the captain of our team. Goaltenders in our sport, no matter what team you play on, are always going to take the brunt of a loss and never get enough credit when we win. He (Luongo) knows that’s part of his job description, and I know he knows what is part of the job description of being a captain. I think he is a very good one.
RLD: Talk a little bit about Alex Burrows. He embraces the role of being hated by the opposition, and how valuable is he to your team? Ryan Kesler: He’s very valuable. He’s a guy that can play top line, second line, he can be a checker, and he’s a very big agitator and that’s a big part of our team. He scores goals, he can agitate, kill penalties, play the power play… he can really do it all. I’ve watched him grow from the lockout year from being cut at the beginning of the season in Manitoba to being a first-line player that scores 30-plus goals. I’ve really enjoyed watching him grow as a player.
RLD: You’ve been nominated twice for the Selke Trophy now. Is playing just as well defensively as you do offensively something you thrive off of and enjoy? Ryan Kesler: Yeah, I got brought defense-first. My dad nailed that in my head at an early age, and he told me to be the hardest-working guy on the ice. I think that has a lot to do with defense. Playing good defense is more of a choice than anything. Playing defense is hard work and backchecking and forechecking, but there are certain skills that I’ve learned through the years of how to be a better defensive player. With that, I think that’s how I broke into the league being so good defensively, and in three or four years I’ve let my offense speak for itself. Last year I really got a good chance of playing power play time and playing with some really good players that helped me become the player I was last year.
RLD: How do you build off a career-high 75-point season? Ryan Kesler: Just try to improve in every area of the game. I’m not going to sit here and say I want to get 80, 85, 90 points next year. I go into a season with certain goals and go into the off-season with certain goals, too. You want to come into the season 100-percent healthy; and from that, you have certain goals you want to improve on; whether it be speed, your shot, or just getting stronger overall. Those are a lot of things you can do in the off-season. When the season starts, I set a different number of goals, and it all starts in the off-season and continues from there.
RLD: When you were growing up, who did you idolize or try to resemble your game after? Ryan Kesler: I really liked Mike Modano. He was the guy from my home town. I really liked the way he skated, his shot, the cannon… just his whole game. I tried to model myself after him, and really idolized him growing up.
RLD: What’s it like to be a part of the 2003 draft class – one of the best in NHL history? Ryan Kesler: It’s pretty cool. Just looking at the first round alone, I think there’s only one or two guys that haven’t played a game in the NHL. That alone says a lot. Then you have guys like Shea Weber and (Patrice) Bergeron going in the second and third round. There are a lot of good players that came from that draft, and it’s pretty cool to say you’re from one of the better draft classes in the history of the NHL.
RLD: What is one memory that you take away from being a part of Team USA this past February? Ryan Kesler: (Pause) … One memory? Probably just all of the team guys that we had. We didn’t really know each other too well, and by the end of it we were all pretty close. We got along well and it was a great group of guys. For me, that’d probably be one of them. But more importantly, just putting on that sweater for the first time and going out for that first game and taking the first face-off of our first game was probably one of the most memorable experiences of the Olympics. Personally, scoring that empty net goal… I get recognized more for that goal than I do for any other of my goals. So I might go down in history as the only guy in the NHL and the Olympics that will be known for his empty net goal!
RLD: What was the atmosphere like in Vancouver for the Olympics, compared to 41 games a year with the Canucks in the same arena? Were there a lot of differences? Ryan Kesler: Yeah there was. I think in the earlier games the atmosphere was lower because of all the media across from the benches; I think the media took up most of the lower bowl. That was a little weird to see, and it didn’t even resemble GM Place too much. As the games started getting more important, that’s when you could really tell everybody was really into the games.
RLD: Leave us with this… will the Canucks fulfill The Hockey News’ prediction of you guys winning the Cup this year? Ryan Kesler: We will give it our best. Hopefully it’s going to be a successful year for our team, and hopefully we can bring home a Cup for all of those faithful Canuck fans!
We thank Ryan for taking time out to speak with us this week, along with his agent Kurt Overhardt!
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.