Ryan Kesler Has Been Everything the Anaheim Ducks Wanted, And More

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November 7, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler (17) moves in for a shot on goal against the Arizona Coyotes during the second period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

1. Even Strength

Part of Anaheim’s struggles the past few seasons has been their inability to roll a strong second line to complement the duo of Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Coach Bruce Boudreau tried his line juggling magic to generate a strong second line during his tenure, but there was hardly any real production. In the past two seasons, the Ducks tried Bonino, Peter Holland, Mathieu Perreault, and even an experimental stint with Bobby Ryan at the second-line center spot. They are all solid players, but not at the caliber of a true top-six center (Ryan is a bona-fide top-six player in the NHL, but he is more suited for the wing). With Kesler, the Ducks have that second line center spot anchored and can focus more on filling the remaining three wing spots on the top-six. The Ducks also can deploy Getzlaf and Kesler for fewer minutes: Getzlaf’s minutes are down from 21:17 last season to 20:41 this season, while Kesler’s minutes have dropped from 21:48 to 20:16.

Kesler is third on the team with 14 points and tied for third on the team with five goals. The recent second line of Kesler, Matt Beleskey, and Jakob Silfverberg has been terrific. The trio have a set of skills that complement each other nicely and have been a force together, both offensively and defensively. That line is able to dictate play because of strong work in the corners and the willingness to engage on the forecheck. Kesler and Silfverberg are also two of the team’s best defensive forwards, both at even strength and on the penalty kill, where the two are in the top three among Ducks’ forwards in shorthanded ice time per game. Because of that combination, Boudreau is able to deploy this line when aiming to neutralize the opponent’s top lines while knowing that they are able to create offensively as well. A great way to play defense is to control the puck in the offensive third and put shots on the opposing net, as the opponent cannot score without the puck.

In the NHL, it is of paramount importance that a team can roll four lines: depth production is a truly valuable thing in the salary cap era. The Ducks have not struggled with having depth contributions, but many of those players were not able to become true contributors on the top-six. With Kesler anchoring the second line, the Ducks have a terrific second unit. Kesler is riding a four game point streak (two goals, four assists), while Beleskey and Silfverberg have two and three points respectively since being put on the line Friday against the Arizona Coyotes. Both players have seen significant bumps in their ice time as well, as Silfverberg has logged at least 19 minutes in each of the past three games, while Beleskey’s two highest games in terms of ice time came when he skated with Kesler and Silfverberg.

When the Ducks won the Stanley Cup, they had a strong second line of Getzlaf, Perry, and Dustin Penner. The team, since then, has had issues with being top-heavy and relying too much on Getzlaf and Perry to carry the load. With Kesler making his linemates better, the Ducks now have a unit they can roll out that can ease the scoring burden from the top line and play tougher defensive assignments.