Vancouver center Ryan Kesler will play in his first regular season game of the year on Friday when the Canucks take on the Dallas Stars at Rogers Arena.
Kesler, 28, spent the offseason and lockout recovering from shoulder and wrist injuries — both of which required surgery — and returned to practice in a non-contact capacity last week.
On Thursday, Kesler doffed his non-contact jersey and skated on a line with Chris Higgins and Zack Kassian.
“I flipped AV’s coin and it said I’m playing,” Kesler told reporters on Friday, alluding to head coach Alain Vigneault’s ongoing joke that he flips a coin to decide which goalie to start on a nightly basis.
His return will be a huge boost to the Canucks lineup. The former 40-goal scorer had 22G-27A-49PTS last season while averaging over 20 minutes per contest.
Kesler represented the Canucks at the 2011 NHL All-Star Game and also won that year’s Frank J. Selke Award, given annually to the league’s top defensive forward.
To make room for Kesler, the Canucks put center Manny Malhotra on injured reserve yesterday, announcing that the 32-year-old veteran would not play for the remainder of the season.
Ryan Kesler: “I’m fully convinced it’s not too early. It’s pretty exciting for myself. It’s been a long road.” #canucks
— Elliott Pap (@ElliottPap) February 15, 2013