VANCOUVER -- It was hard to know which was of more import to the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday: Ryan Kesler's hip or, well, Ryan Kesler's body.
The fact the defending Frank J. Selke Trophy winner was cleared for contact and skated for the first time with his teammates in a full practice Wednesday will have far-reaching implications for the team over the long haul.
The Canucks are hoping, of course, to return to the Stanley Cup finals this season after losing in seven games to Boston in June in a series they led 2-0 and 3-2, and a healthy Kesler will be crucial to that goal.
"I'm good," Kesler told reporters as the Canucks prepared for their season-opener Thursday night here against the Pittsburgh Penguins. "It was good. It's another step. It's a step in the right direction. I felt good out there."
After a breakout season where he tied for fourth in the NHL with 41 goals, Kesler enjoyed a strong playoff run, but was not at 100 percent by the time the Canucks and Bruins met in the finals. He underwent offseason surgery to correct hip problems and wasn't sure when he would be back to game-readiness. He's still not sure when he'll join the Canucks' lineup, but Wednesday was a positive sign.
"It's whenever my hip is strong enough, ready enough," he said. "I can't put a timetable on it. Whenever I feel good, I will play."
As for not starting the season with his teammates, Kesler seemed to be taking it in stride.
"It is what it is. I can't be upset," he said. "It's a positive step for me today. I can't think about the negatives right now. Right now, it's one step at a time."
As for seeing him in action as early as next week, Kesler didn't think that was a likely option.
"By no means do I want to limp in and play 10 minutes a night," Kesler said. "I want to come back in and get my minutes and play with more normal linemates. I want to come back in, have an immediate impact and help the team."
And in other Kesler news ...
Almost drawing as much interest today was reaction to Kesler's appearance in ESPN The Magazine's The Body Issue, which features a range of athletes sans clothing. He said he spoke to his family first about the idea and then decided it would be a fun thing to do.
"Yes, it turned out well. I had a lot of fun doing it," he said.
His teammates? There was no shortage of fun poked at Kesler in the wake of the magazine pictorial. Netminder Roberto Luongo said he declined an invitation to appear in the issue.
"This body is for one set of eyes only," Luongo said. "I turned it down, unfortunately Kes accepted."
Henrik Sedin, the 2010 NHL scoring champ, said he thinks it's good exposure, um, for the game.
"I didn't take a deeper look at [the pictures]," he said. "It's good for him and it's good for hockey to get some publicly out there."
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault joked that he didn't recognize his star winger with his duds on.
"I didn't recognize him this morning when he came in with clothes on. I saw the picture once. It was interesting," he said.
Kesler, for his part, seemed nonplussed by the digs. "Jealousy. That's all they've got," he quipped.