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Selke nod for Superman

Ryan Kesler is a symbol of all that is good for the Canucks

Tuesday, 28.04.2009 / 6:30 PM / Features
By Derek Jory
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Selke nod for Superman
The tattoo etched above Ryan Kesler's right bicep says it all.

It's the Superman logo with a K in the centre instead of the tradition S, a symbol of the role Kesler has taken on with the Vancouver Canucks.

He may not wear a cape and his superpowers are minimal - unless being a super pest counts, but Kesler is as hard working and determined as anyone in the NHL and on Tuesday he was acknowledged for his heroic play this season.

Kesler is among the three finalists for the Frank Selke Trophy, awarded "to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game." The other nominees are Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, last year's winner, and Mike Richards of Philadelphia.

"It's two pretty good guys, two really good players and I'm just happy to be nominated," said Kesler, who was selected by the Canucks 23rd overall in the 2003 draft, one pick ahead of Richards.

This is the first nomination for Kesler, Vancouver's Cyclone Taylor Trophy winner this season as team MVP, who credited his dad, Mike, with instilling a defence first mentality in him at a young age.

"Backcheck, backcheck, backcheck," laughed Kesler. "He always focused on my faceoffs and my defensive play and backchecking. He wanted [scoring] too, but he always wanted defense first."

Apparently it's ask and you shall receive between father and son as Kesler has developed into a responsible player at both ends of the ice and that was on full display throughout the 2008-09 season and the first round of the playoffs.

He helped the Canucks finish seventh in the league, and fourth in the Western Conference, in goals-against at 220, while leading the team in takeaways with 74.

Kesler has always been a stud on the penalty kill and that was evident versus the St. Louis Blues, especially down 5-on-3.

He ranked first among Vancouver forwards in shorthanded ice time per game at 3:19 during the season and was second to only Henrik Sedin in total ice time at 19:27.

Although not quite as dangerous as Alex Burrows while shorthanded, Kesler did notch a pair of goals and four points for the Canucks on the kill, which put the exclamation point on a breakout season on offence.

For the second straight year Kesler established new career-highs in goals (26), assists (33) and points (59), was a career-best plus-8, while blocking 70 shots and shaving 18 penalty minutes off last year's total, despite being split from Burrows, his longtime third line partner.

He was moved up to the second line to play alongside Mats Sundin and Pavol Demitra in early 2009 and he thrived with 31 points in the final three months of the season, yet he never lost the checking toughness that has made him so hard for the opposition to contend with.

"He's got grit, he's strong on his stick, he's strong on his feet and he's smart too, he's a smart player," said Burrows.

"The thing is that he never cheats out there, there are a lot of guys who will cheat on the defensive side, but he doesn't. He works for every inch out there and that's what makes him a better player."

Kesler is viewed by many as the dark horse candidate to win the Selke this year, what with Datsyuk and Richards both boasting better numbers on offence and defence, but that doesn't take anything away from Kesler.

He's headed to Las Vegas for the NHL awards on June 18 either way and once he's there, all bets are off, oddly enough.

"The honour is well deserved, he's had a really good year for us," noted coach Alain Vigneault.

"He works hard and competes hard at both ends of the rink and given the opportunity to have a little bit more of an offensive role, he was able to jump on that and jump on the power play time and I think it worked out well for our team."

Kesler's speed and competitive drive are what Vigneault accredited to him being nominated, although to Kesler, the criteria to being a finalist is a little different.

"Obviously you're hard to play against, guys on the other team hate to play against you," he said.

"As well you've got to be defensively responsible and can make the reads and the plays to stay out of trouble defensively."

Kesler has demonstrated all the above this season and just like the iconic emblem on his arm, he's a symbol of all that is good for the Canucks.