Filling in for Ryan Kesler

Thomas Drance
August 03 2011 02:25PM

Yesterday the Canucks 2nd line center, Selke winner and team MVP Ryan Kesler had successful surgery to repair his hip labrum, which, he ruptured in game five of the Western Conference Final. He's due to be out for 10-12 weeks, meaning he's likely to miss the first week of the season and possibly a bit more.

Jo Innes, a medical professional and hockey fan who runs the indispensible blog "PuckThatHurts.com" writes

The labrum deepens the socket, provides extra surface area to spread out the load the hip is carrying, and essentially provides a seal around the joint that keeps the femoral head in place (with help from a whole lot of ligaments)... It takes about 4 to 6 weeks for the repaired cartilage to really re-attach to acetabulum. Generally you’d be looking at anywhere from an 8 week to 6 month recovery time, but Kesler came back in only 10 weeks last time (only to break his finger 3 days later). The earliest you could reasonably expect him to be back would likely be mid to late October."

I think it's a safe assumption that the Canucks will be extra cautious with Kesler's recovery process - especially as he'll be hampered in the very early days of the season. If Kesler were to miss most of, or all of, the seasons first month - I wouldn't be surprised at all.

Nor would I be particularly upset about it! I've been going on and on to anyone who will listen (mostly @camcharron) about the need to rest Kesler this regular season. As important as Kesler is to the Canucks, his missing even the first twenty games is a potential boon to the team in that it a) provides the teams best two-way player with some mandatory rest, and b) provides a young player, or a depth player with the chance to step-up and prove their worth.

There are, as I see it, two main candidates to replace Ryan Kesler in the Canucks lineup (Cody Hodgson, Andrew Ebbett) as well as a dark-horse candidate (Maxim Lapierre). I seriously doubt that Malhotra will move from his third-line role, because he's simply too valuable there.

Cody Hodgson

Cody Hodgson will go into camp with a lot of pressure on his shoulders in the wake of Kesler's injury. A former CHL player of the year and heir apparent - Hodgson has been beset by injuries and mis-use in his young career, and in the eyes of many, has failed to live up to his billing. I'm less pessimistic, however, I think Hodgson is a remarkably talented player, and this is just the sort of break the young man needs. In his eight regular season appearances, Hodgson played on the fourth line with the likes of Jeff Tambellini and Tanner Glass. On the power-play he was placed in front of the net, where his passing skills were neutered. Simply put: he wasn't put in a position to succeed.

Many point to his AHL production - (17 goals and 13 assists in 52 games) as a reason for their disappointment, but this superficial analysis fails to account for the amount of time Hodgson spent playing himself into shape following his year long lay-off, and the broken orbital bone he suffered in early December. Before that injury, he was a point per game player in the month of November, and from his game-log, it doesn't look as if he was riding the percentages. Though his thirty points in over fifty games may not impress you, his having 166 shots on goal in fifty-two games is very promising. The hope for the organization, and the fans, has to be that Hodgson wins the second line center position outright in camp and impresses in October.

Andrew Ebbett

After a stellar campaign in 2008/2009 with the Anaheim Ducks, the diminutive 28 year old from Vernon, British Columbia has bounced around the league over the last couple of seasons. The Canucks will be his fifth team in the last three years, and he was likely waiver fodder until news of Kesler's surgery broke yesterday afternoon. 

Ebbett was a standout in college, and in his first AHL season was a point-per-game player. When he graduated to the Ducks for 48 games in 08/09 he produced 32 points in limited minutes and posted some pretty impressive underlying numbers. Last season with Phoenix he got into 33 games and only put up five points, though his EV Fenwick tied number was in the upper-tier for his team. Given a legitimate shot with the Canucks, it's possible that Ebbett could regain his 08/09 form and prove to be an above replacement-level fill in on the 2nd line. He'll be extra motivated, one would think, to knock off the much heralded Cody Hodgson - and it wouldn't be much of a surprise (though it would be somewhat of a disappointment) to see him line-up as the 2nd line center on opening day.

Maxim Lapierre

Now - let's start this off with the big qualifier - I think Lapierre is a dark-horse candidate to replace Kesler out of training camp. His career high in goals was a percentage driven fiften in 09/09, and he added thirteen assists for 28 points that year. He hasn't come close to re-creating that production level since. Still, Lapierre has earned Vigneault's trust and has been extremely effective as a tough-minutes option during his Canucks tenure. He's also twenty-six, so it's still possible that Lapierre has some untapped offensive potential.

Clearly it's a stretch to think that Maxim Lapierre could be above replacement level as a second line center - but as any close observer of Vigneault will tell you - trust matters a lot to the Canucks head-coach. Lapierre has it for sure, and it's possible that neither Ebbett nor Hodgson will be able to earn it in training-camp. If that happens, I think Lapierre has an outside shot at winning the right to replace Kesler in the first few weeks of the regular season.

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 Kent Wilson
August 03 2011, 06:31PM
Trash it!
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Actual replacement for Kesler: None. Because he's one of the best centers in the entire league.

That said, having Malhotra and Higgins in the line-up might help assuage the loss at ES for awhile.

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