Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Cross Checks [Print without images]

Friday, September 9, 2011
Injured Ryan Kesler motivated to raise game

By Pierre LeBrun

NEW YORK -- The look on Ryan Kesler's face said it all. He is not where he wanted to be at this point, but he's trying to be patient.

He was still noticeably limping around the NHL offices during Player Media Tour interviews Friday, but he remains optimistic he won't miss any significant period of time following hip surgery in July.

He won't be ready for camp next week, but he's still eyeing the Vancouver Canucks' season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 6.

"It's getting better, I've skated about five times, it's feeling good, close to 100 percent but not there yet," Kesler told ESPN.com. "My goal is to start the season. We'll see if that happens or not."

Ryan Kesler
Vancouver forward Ryan Kesler has just one assist in the Cup finals series versus Boston.
It's a storyline that bears watching, especially if Kesler has any kind of setback.

The Team USA Olympic star has his sights set on topping his career-best exploits from last season, when he cemented his place among the league's elite centers with a 41-goal season while still displaying his usual defensive prowess. That season netted him his first career Selke trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward.

But he wants to do even more.

"I expect big things this year," Kesler said. "I expect to produce more offensively. I expect to be a better leader. All facets of my game I expect to become better at. But my first thing is getting healthy. That tops my list right now. I want to come back stronger and faster than last year."

There was eagerness in Kesler's voice Friday. The Stanley Cup finals ended in massive disappointment after the Canucks blew a 3-2 series lead to the Boston Bruins, and you have to wonder what kind of psychological damage that ending had on the Canucks. Kesler insists it's quite the opposite.

"I think our group, especially our core group, we're motivated," Kesler said. "We're not going to have that hangover. We didn't win anything. We played that same amount of games [as Cup champion Boston] but we didn't win anything. We've been there but we haven't done it. We're a mature enough group. We're focused. I think that run made us a closer group. We're going to be fine."

But will his goalie be fine? Roberto Luongo bore the brunt of his team's late-series collapse after getting shelled in three games in Boston and Game 7. The way Luongo bounces back is easily the most fascinating story to be unveiled on this team.

"I think he's going to rebound great," Kesler said. "He's one of the hardest working guys I know. Sometimes he wears his heart on his sleeve. He cares. Every guy in that dressing room cares. We have full confidence in Roberto. He's won us plenty of games in the past. And it'll be no different this year."

In the meantime, Kesler can't avoid noticing the Bruins celebrate with the Cup this summer. And he is fueled by thoughts of what it would have been like for his group to be celebrating.

"I see clips of certain players with the Cup. It's definitely motivating when you see that," Kesler said. "You see that and you realize how close you were. The Cup was in the building twice, and we didn't get it done. In saying that, we have to move on. It's a new season with new opportunities."