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Kesler itching to make impact for Canucks

Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa (3) hugs Shelly Rypien, mother of former Vancouver Canuck Rick Rypien during a ceremony prior to a game against the New York Rangers at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C. Tuesday, Oct.18, 2011. Rypien died earlier this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan


The return of Ryan Kesler. A commemoration of Rick Rypien's life. And the one and only visit this season from the Broadway Blushirts.

It will be quite the night at Rogers Arena Tuesday when the Vancouver Canucks play their second home game of the 2011-12 NHL season. The Canucks are 2-2-1 after a four-game road trip, and have been without Kesler, who underwent hip surgery in August.

Despite indications that Kesler would miss the first month of the season - this after he had to be talked out of trying to return for the season opener on Oct. 6 - it seems the hyper-competitive centreman and the Canucks have found a mid-October compromise. Head coach Alain Vigneault said he didn't want to see any limping or "pain face" from the Livonia, Mich., native or else he would limit Kesler's minutes against the New York Rangers.

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"As long as he's looking good and feeling comfortable on the ice...we'll play him like we usually do," Vigneault said. "He's a huge part of our group."

Kesler, who missed all of training camp, will also be back on the first power-play unit, as the net-front presence alongside the Sedin twins. He should also take his customary penalty-killing shift, although he struggled with face-offs in morning skate and may not yet have his timing back on draws.

"That's going to be my biggest adjustment," Kesler said.

The return of Kesler bumps rookie Cody Hodgson from centre to wing on the second line, and knocks winger Mikael Samuelsson down to the third line. Kesler called Hodgson

"The first game back is always the easiest," said Kesler, the reigning Selke Trophy winner as the NHL's best defensive forward. "It's the second one that you feel."

Kesler called Hodgson one of Vancouver's best forwards so far this season. The 21-year-old has two points in five games and has generated many chances, but he will now be forced out of his comfort zone while playing on the wing.

Hodgson said the Canucks system calls for the first forward back to skate lowest in the defensive zone, and that there are no set positions after the face-off in the offensive zone.

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"I may find myself wandering to the centre a little bit, but that's alright," Hodgson said.

Samuelsson fits on the third line with former Ranger Manny Malhotra in the middle and Jannik Hansen on the opposite wing. Marco Sturm, an offseason free-agent signing, is a healthy scratch after five ineffective games for the Canucks.

The game will be preceded by a tribute to former Canucks forward Rick Rypien, who took his own life this summer after a battle with depression. Rypien's family will participate in the event, and Canucks players were shown a video that will be part of the tribute so that they weren't caught off guard by the emotion.

Vigneault called the video "powerful" and said it would be more difficult to endure this ceremony than the one for former defenceman Luc Bourdon because the veteran Canucks knew Rypien for a longer period of time. Bourdon had just begun his NHL career when he died in a motorcycle accident in his native New Brunswick in May 2008.

"He was a good friend, a great teammate, and he was like a brother to me too," said Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa, Rypien's best friend on the team.

"Being Rypien Night, we got to do it for him tonight," Kesler added.

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About the Author
B.C. sports correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Matthew spearheads the Globe's sports coverage in B.C., and spends most of his time with the NHL Canucks and CFL Lions. He has worked for four dailies and TSN since graduating from Carleton University's School of Journalism a decade ago, and has covered the Olympic Games, Super Bowls, Grey Cups, the Stanley Cup playoffs and the NBA Finals. More

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