When the Anaheim Ducks made the blockbuster trade to bring Ryan Kesler to Southern California in the offseason, it was seen as a direct response to address an issue that was exposed by the Los Angeles Kings in the postseason. The Ducks lacked both strength and depth down the middle, and the Kings willingly rolled four lines anchored by strong pivots on their way to crushing the Ducks in Game 7 and eventually winning the Stanley Cup.
Center, like the quarterback in football, is the franchise position in the NHL: it is near impossible for any team to contend without at least one great centerman down the middle. The Kings have Anze Kopitar, the Blackhawks have Jonathan Toews, and the Bruins have Patrice Bergeron: those three teams have won the previous five Stanley Cups. Team Canada won the 2014 Sochi Olympics, in large part because they were the strongest team down the middle, anchored by Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Toews, Bergeron, and Matt Duchene. That team also lacked Steven Stamkos because of a broken leg and lost John Tavares to an MCL tear.
Top-six forwards are a valuable commodity in the NHL, and top-six centerman are an even rarer luxury. The Anaheim Ducks had coveted Kesler even during the 2014 trade deadline: by adding him, the team could have potentially had him for three postseason runs before his contract expired after the 2015-2016 season. However, a deal with the Vancouver Canucks did not happen in March. After the season ended, the Ducks re-engaged with the Canucks, ultimately sending a package of Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, and 1st and 3rd round draft picks in 2014 for Kesler and a 2015 3rd round pick.
In Kesler, the Ducks are getting a one-time 40 goal scorer and former Selke Trophy winner. But honestly, the Ducks have to be absolutely thrilled with what they have gotten from Kesler: he has been everything the team had hoped, and even more. Through 17 games, the Ducks have shown flashes of being one of the best teams in the NHL and a possible Stanley Cup contender. Many believed that this team was one final piece away from truly contending for a championship last season, and those same people initially believed that the Kesler deal would catapult Anaheim into the conversation of the truly elite teams in the NHL. The Ducks sport a 11-3-3 record and are currently at the top of the NHL with 25 points in the standings.
In the middle of all of this improvement is Kesler, who has made the team much better in just about every area of the ice.