Kesler returns to All-Star Game, looking to prove contract doubters wrong

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In the summer of 2015, Anaheim signed Ryan Kesler to a six-year, $41.25 million extension — a deal that would keep the veteran center under contract until he was 38, and pay him $6.875M annually.

The move came with some scrutiny. Kesler was already on the wrong side of 30 and had logged over 800 career games, with many hard minutes therein. He was also coming off a modest 47-point campaign.

The critiques were out there. And apparently Kesler hear ’em.

“That gets me going,” Kesler said this week, per the L.A. Times. “Ever since I signed that contract, I want to prove people wrong. You try not to hear it but you hear what people say, and I think that motivates me every year to come back and prove that I’m not quote-unquote over the hill.”

Kesler has been full value since signing the deal. Last year, he put up 53 points — his highest total since the ’10-11 campaign in Vancouver — and was named a Selke finalist.

This year, he’s been Anaheim’s MVP.

Kesler leads the Ducks in goals and points, with 16 and 35, and is playing an absolute boatload of minutes, averaging 21:51 per night. That puts him second among all forwards in terms of ice time — only Chicago’s Patrick Kane averages more — and he remains a solid possession metrics guy, often tasked with shutting down the opposition’s top forwards.

(He also remains dominant in the faceoff circle, leading the NHL in draws won.)

As such, Kesler’s headed to his second career All-Star Game, and first in six years. It’s a deserved honor. The Ducks are neck-and-neck with San Jose for top spot in the Pacific Division, despite relatively down offensive years from Corey Perry (just seven goals through 43 games) and Ryan Getzlaf (who’s been dealing with various injuries all season).

Even Getzlaf admits Kesler has been driving the bus in Anaheim.

“He’s been our best player all season,” the captain said, per the O.C. Register. “Without a doubt.”