Ryan Kesler Cleared For Contact, Could Play Friday Against Stars

Rich Lam

Shortly after losing Manny Malhotra for the season, the Canucks announced Ryan Kesler has been medically cleared to play, and could return to the lineup for Friday's game against the Stars.

It's been a bittersweet Valentine's Day for Canucks fans. This morning, the Canucks announced that Manny Malhotra would miss the remainder of the year due to a concern with the eye injury after being hit by a puck in the left eye during the 2011 season.

Shortly after however, the team announced that Ryan Kesler has been medically cleared for contact, and could return to the lineup for Friday's game against the Dallas Stars. Kesler has been going through a slow recovery after having shoulder surgery over the offseason.

During today's practice, Kesler wore a jersey for the first time that indicated he was eligible for contact. Kesler skated with Zack Kassian and Chris Higgins, and also spent time with the first power play unit.

Malhotra's injury, as unfortunate as it is, has answered the question of what the Canucks would do with rookie Jordan Schroeder once Kesler returned. With Malhotra on the injured reserve list, the Canucks will be able to keep Schroeder when David Booth returns from injury.

Canucks GM Mike Gillis said in a statement issued Thursday that he believed Malhotra was putting himself at risk with his impaired vision, and that the team was looking out for his long-term health and safety.

Even if Kesler returns to the Vancouver lineup on Friday night, don't expect him to be in top form for several weeks. Kesler has said multiple times that he wants to be careful in his return from this injury, and won't play until he feels like he is at 100 percent. After a breakout year in 2011 where he scored 41 goals and 73 points, Kesler's numbers took a hit last year while dealing with injuries. Just like any injury, it'll be interesting to see how he takes those first hits in a game situation.

Considering the team is currently on a six-game winning streak, sitting in first place in the Northwest Division, Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault will be in no rush to get Kesler back into the lineup full time right away.

Whether or not he plays on Friday, Kesler being medically cleared for contact is a huge step in the right direction for the team.

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