Even after Ryan Kesler scored a goal in his season debut last week, there was no telling just how much he had left.
He was largely ineffective last season following hip surgery, and another grueling summer of rehab — driven by his unquenchable thirst to quiet the critics — was required just to suit up for another season.
Ducks general manager Bob Murray was hopeful — confident, even — that Kesler still possessed enough talent at age 34 to perform at an All-Star level. After all, he was now playing pain-free hockey, an achievement in its own right.
In the 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Wednesday at Honda Center, it was evident Kesler and his arthritic hip still have plenty left to give. He scored the Ducks’ first two goals, and was his usual pesky self on the defensive end.
“I had a goal in mind: I wanted to prove a lot of people wrong that thought I was done,” Kesler said. “This is a good start. I love [proving doubters wrong]. It’s my favorite thing to do, probably.”
With less than six seconds left in the first period, Kesler collected a Sam Steel power-play blast, was denied by Thomas Greiss, but spun around and beat the Islanders goalie with his second effort on the backhand.
Kesler wasn’t done there. There were more naysayers to quiet, of course. So as he glided into the zone — just himself and two Islanders defenseman — he used Nick Leddy as a screen and unleashed a quick wrist shot from just beyond the blue line that found its way into the net.
The puck quickly caromed out, and Kesler wasn’t quite sure if it went in so he immediately fired it back into the goal.
“He has the attitude that he’s not going to be denied and that’s a great personal attitude that he takes towards it,” coach Randy Carlyle said of Kesler. “If somebody says you can’t, he’s going to show you he can.”
The Ducks’ other top-six center (at least with Ryan Getzlaf nursing a groin injury) added a third goal just 46 seconds into the third. Adam Henrique batted an airborne puck past Greiss, a rebound that was created off rookie Max Comtois’ sharp-angle shot from below the right face-off circle.
The goal allowed the Ducks to play comfortably ahead. In fact, it was the first time all season the Ducks entered the final period with a multi-goal lead. Hampus Lindholm added an empty-netter shortly after Casey Cizikas ruined John Gibson’s would-be second shutout with 34.8 seconds left.
Ritchie signs three-year contract
Nick Ritchie, a restricted free agent, rejoined the Ducks on a three-year deal. The former first-round pick skated with the team earlier in the day, and then signed his contract (worth $4.6 million, according to a source) in Murray’s office about a half-hour before puck drop.
The deal will pay him $1.2 million this season, $1.4 million the following season and $2 million in the last year, according to a source.
Ritchie was a fixture of the squad’s third line last season.
A first-round pick of the Ducks in 2014 (10th overall), Ritchie hasn’t realized the vast expectations Murray and Co. had for him, but he’s still just 22.
He produced a career-high 14 goals last season along with 14 assists. A Canadian resident, Ritchie now must obtain a P-1 work visa, Murray said.