Razor's Edge: Centres of attention

Ray Ferraro
10/26/2009 1:22:04 AM
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There is no position that is more critical in producing offense than a centreman.

Without a pivot that can distribute the puck, create space and see the ice, it's tougher for his wingers to score. There are top end point producers, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Joe Thornton, Pavel Datsyuk, and Marc Savard as examples, then there players that are better suited to be No. 2 guys. I am going to look at a couple of these players, who seasons and careers are at completely different phases.
Canucks' Ryan Kesler is 24 years old. He is now a legitimate No. 2 centre. He's off to a terrific start with nine points in 11 games.

I watched him from my spot between the benches Wednesday night in Chicago and was totally impressed. With the Canucks winless on the road this season, in a tough building against a very good team, Kesler was brilliant.

He is their engine - he drives this group. There is nothing he doesn't do for the Canucks - kills penalties, blocks shots, creates offense with speed and an infectious recklessness - and his role is increasing at every turn.

Last February, when the Canucks needed an offensive spark, they broke up Kesler and Alex Burrows, moved them to different lines, and both exploded. Kesler scored 17 of his 26 goals in the last 34 games of the season on the way to a career best 59 points and it's not a fluke.

The first time I saw him play live was in the lockout when he was in the American Hockey League. On the way to a 30 goal year, he looked eerily similar to a young Trevor Linden. There is no more iconic player in Canucks history than Linden. I don't know how Kesler won't be a US Olympian and his career is only entering his best years.

The only question is where the Canucks slot Kesler, who is a restricted free agent at years end. In my mind, he is a shade under Mike Richards (cap hit $5.75m), above David Krejci (cap hit $3.75m).

Staying in Canada, let us compare Kesler against divisional rival, Shawn Horcoff.

 Horcoff is 31 years old and is in year one of a six year salary cap clogging $5.5m cap hit contract. He is off to a terrible start, just two points in 11 games.

I have known about Shawn since he was a little kid, as we grew up in the same area - he is 14 years younger though. It has always been virtually impossible to outwork Horcoff.

His best year was in 2005-06, when he had 73 points. Three years ago he had 51 points, then an All-Star year that was ended early by shoulder surgery (50 points in 53 games). Last year was a train wreck, with just 53 points.

He was overworked defensively, took almost 1800 faceoffs because the Oilers had no one else they trusted. He has played big minutes, almost exclusively with Ales Hemsky for the past few seasons, been on the first power play, played 20 minutes a night and only been over 53 points one time.

I've never thought of him as a true No. 1 centre, as he isn't creative enough, and seems better suited to a No. 2 role, where I think he'd fit better. I believe he is a 50-55 point man who kills penalties, plays the second power play and provides leadership, but at $5.5m, the price is too steep.

Who do you want? I'll take Kesler.

Razor cuts

 - Mike Richards leveled David Booth Saturday night, with a hit reviewed by the league. Result? No suspension. No matter if you think Booth watched his pass, the hit was shoulder to head. There is nothing in the rule book about shoulder to head contact. There should be. I know its complicated from the GM's standpoint to add a rule on this, but they need to acknowledge the game is different than when most of them played, and this is important. I bet Randy Sexton (Florida's GM) thinks it is as he awaits the return of David Booth.

- If the Leafs had played the first seven games like they played in Vancouver Saturday, they wouldn't be winless. They sure as heck need to take less penalties (five straight in the first period), but they looked particularly in the third period like there is some cohesiveness that can be attained to their attack.

- I still can't buy the Colorado Avalanche, but what an incredible start. There may be no bigger early season surprise as a rookie than 18 year-old Ryan O'Reilly. He has a seven game point streak (2-7-9), and while everyone knows Matt Duchene, O'Reilly is making people take notice with his terrific play.

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