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Vancouver should be careful with Ryan Kesler; hopes to be ready by opening night

Aug 22, 2011, 4:09 PM EST

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Ryan Kesler AP

During the last two seasons, Vancouver Canucks two-way forward Ryan Kesler‘s star has risen as much as any other player in the NHL – at least if you narrow down the field to players who already showed promise. Kesler put an exclamation point on his Selke Trophy-winning 2010-11 season by dominating the Canucks’ second round series against the Nashville Predators, but rumors of injuries surfaced beginning in the Western Conference finals.

Kesler underwent hip surgery in early August, leaving many to wonder if he might miss a chunk of regular season games to start the 2011-12 campaign since the rehab window called for about 10-12 weeks of recovery.

Kesler seems (dangerously?) optimistic

Missing the beginning of next season remains a genuine possibility, but NHL.com passes along reports of Kesler’s optimism about being ready for action on October 6. Dan Rosen points out that Kesler already bounced back from a hip surgery earlier than expected once in his career. Kesler underwent a similar surgery in January 2007 and came back in 10 weeks (and in time for the playoffs), well ahead of the 12-16 week window that was originally given.

“It’s going good; small victories here and there,” Kesler told Canucks TV from his hometown of Livonia, Mich. “I just got off my crutches and I’ll start strengthening so everything is back to normal. I’ll start skating here in the next couple of weeks and hopefully be back by that first game.”

Kesler’s history with hip labrum surgery suggests he might just make the opening night lineup. He had a similar surgery in January 2007 and returned 10 weeks later — in time for the start of the playoffs. He was initially told he would be out anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks.

“I know what it takes. I know the rehab,” Kesler said. “It might even make me braver to try things I probably shouldn’t be trying, but it’s going to make me come back quicker and hopefully I can play in that first game.”

That last statement raises a red flag, though: “It might even make me braver to try things I probably shouldn’t be trying.” It’s inspiring to see hockey players fight through tough injuries, but the bottom line is that such actions sometimes have the disappointing consequence of limiting their on-ice effectiveness. It would be a shame if Kesler ends up only being a fraction of the world-class player he’s been for the last two seasons after rushing back from the surgery – or worse yet – if he greatly increases his chances of aggravating the injury by coming back too soon.

Canucks, Kesler should proceed with caution

Ultimately, it’s the job of the Canucks and their training staff to make sure that Kesler doesn’t come back too soon. Kesler is in the second year of his six-year, $30 million contract, so Vancouver would be wise to take the long view with their versatile center.

The Canucks aren’t the same team without Kesler’s speed, skills and tenacity, but Vancouver rolled with a lot of injury-related punches last season and probably needs to accept the possibility of a small hangover from last summer’s disappointments anyway. Obviously, the decision is up to both sides, but GM Mike Gillis & Co. would be wise to take a cautious approach with an important player who is just about to turn 27 years old.

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