Karim: Kesler a worthy successor to Linden

The similarities between Trevor Linden — Vancouver's 1994 hero — and current Canucks star Ryan Kesler are eerie, writes Nabil Karim, who says Kesler is on his way to becoming a revered leader.
Ryan Kesler's production through two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs compares favourably with Canucks great Trevor Linden's in 1994. (Geoff Howe/Canadian Press)

The similarities between Trevor Linden — Vancouver’s hockey folk hero of the past — and current Canucks star Ryan Kesler are eerie. 

Linden will forever be the revered leader of the Canucks' 1994 Stanley Cup final team, and now Kesler is making the case that he, too, will enjoy the same status.

Prior to the start of the season, I blogged that Kesler should be the next captain of the Canucks. I never could have predicted that Kesler would score 41 goals during the regular season. But I did believe this guy had another level and the Canucks needed him to channel it.

If leaders claim their influence through example, I thought this American thoroughbred would be perfect for a team that was challenged mentally and physically in its previous two post-seasons. He’s a fearless power forward — an elite two-way player who has always been willing to sacrifice his body to finish a play.

In my previous blog, I compared Kesler’s traits to those of Linden, the long-time Vancouver captain and all-time fan favourite. Predictably, it struck a chord with many of you.

Many agreed that Kesler was qualified, while others thought he simply wasn’t ready. And, well, some were mortified that I had the audacity to refer to Kesler in the same breath as Linden.

Here’s a sample comment from one of you: "I can appreciate rhetoric, but comparing Kesler with Linden is absurd. Linden was clutch — he showed up when it mattered. He carried his team on his shoulders on and off the ice … Kesler has been a no-show every post-season. He has no walk to show for his talk. He just doesn't have another gear for the post-season."

I love the healthy debate and fresh opinions — positive or negative. That’s the beauty of our interactive stories. But I have to say those comments about Kesler, shared by many at the time, are now badly outdated. I'm pretty sure most would now agree that the line above, "He carried his team on his shoulders on and off the ice," could now refer to both Linden and Kesler.

Work to do

And the numbers certainly support that statement. After two rounds of Linden's improbable 1994 playoff run with the Canucks, he had eight goals and five assists for 13 points, and was a plus-1 over 12 games.

Let’s compare that to Kesler’s ongoing 2011 adventure. So far, the prickly forward has five goals and 10 assists, 15 points, and is a plus-6 in 13 games.

If you want to throw in the intangibles such as physical presence, blocked shots and work on special teams, Kesler has been outstanding — on par with Linden, if not better. He not only was a key part of the penalty kill that went 20-for-21 against Nashville in Round 2, but he also shut down Mike Fisher, a proven playoff performer.

In the first round against Anaheim, Fisher was dominant, looking like a steal at the trade deadline with three goals, three assists and a plus-2 in the series against the Ducks. Going head-to-head with Kesler, Fisher managed just one assist and was a minus-3, while allowing his counterpart to rack up 11 points.

The ultimate measuring stick is Linden’s masterful performance in the Stanley Cup final. His two goals in Game 7 at New York's Madison Square Garden will be eternally etched in the minds of Vancouverites. The franchise was a goalpost away from going into overtime against the Rangers, and then who knows what would have happened?

Serious work still to do

On Twitter, some fans were joking about changing the name of the City of Whistler, to the City of Kesler. Clever, but let’s not get carried away.

Kesler has some serious work to do to get the full realm of "Linden Respect" in Vancouver. If he doesn’t take this team to the final, forget all the statistics and superman-like performances. It’s Stanley Cup or bust in Vancouver. Making the final is an accomplishment, but it just isn’t good enough this year. Fair or not, the stakes have been raised.

Kesler has the same burden that Linden had. This is his team — success or epic failure.

Now, I can just hear the murmurs of anti-Canucks fans. Why are we talking about a player after two rounds? It’s only something Vancouverites might do because of their lack of playoff success. Point taken. But, if his last eight games of this post-season are any indication, Kesler is on the verge of one of the greatest performances by a Canuck in the post-season.

The bandwagon is almost full, and the parade preparations around Robson Street are already being discussed — just in case.

No pressure though, Kes.