Part Six: Rusty Klesla
Now typically you would read a "Player to watch" story about an up-and-coming youngster who has shown some promise from a previous year/season/series etc. We at the Cannon have already given a few cases where this isn't exactly the case. (See: Vermette, Commodore). Even the vets have to up their game from year to year.
If there's one guy on the roster everyone has big expectations for going into camp it has to be Rusty. That doesn't just include this year - its every year. Its been a rollercoaster of a career for Klesla, fighting inconsistency and injury most of the way. There's no doubt in his work ethic however. One thing is for sure, he wants nothing more than to help this team win.
As I mentioned, his injury history has really put a damper on his career. It reads like a rolodex of pain - seriously, check it out. When he isn't on the shelf, Rusty uses his great size (6'3", 220) to throw at the opposition. Fun fact: he's not inept on offense, but you'd never know by looking at his last 2 seasons. Lets take a look at where he came from, where he is, and where he's going...
Where he came from:
Rusty actually started his pro career playing in the USHL for a season for Sioux City. He spent the next two years in the OHL with the Brampton Battallion. He saw a lot of success scoring 99 points in 112 games. Making the move to the NHL hasn't been as much of a success as he hoped.
The fourth overall pick in 2000, Klesla remains the only original Blue Jacket on the roster (we miss you, Veebs). The then 18 year old defenseman had enormous expectations from a coach and management that (thankfully) are no longer around. Only having played 8 games in the team's inaugural season, Klesla was already not living up to the hype. His 22 points in 2006-07 remain his career high.
He was signed to another 4-year deal in 2009. I hope that whatever happens, Rusty plays his final year as a Blue Jacket. I guarantee he would always be one of the franchise's most loved players, joining the likes of Pascal LeClaire, Jody Shelley, Rick Nash, and others.
Where he is:
From what I know, Rusty is rehabbing and skating and should be good to go for camp. Last year's start looked promising for the long time Jacket. Just two games in, he was on a blistering pace for an 82-goal season. Another on-ice injury put Klesla out for allegedly 6-8 weeks, but weeks turned into months turned into the rest of the year.
Things were looking great for Rusty, he was averaging over 20 minutes a game, he scored the game winner in the season opener (being there for it was awesome, it was a rocket), he finally looked like he had beaten the injury bug.
One could argue that Klesla's injury lead to that huge slide the Jackets suffered in December and January. The losing started November 21, and his injury was on the 30th but after that, well, you know. In only 26 games, he totalled 2-6-8. -7, 26 PIM.
Where he's going:
If he can stay healthy and avoid the freak accidents that put him out last November, I see Rusty being a very good player for this team. He showed a lot of passion and desire last year. If this team makes the playoffs again, no one deserves to be out there more than Klesla.
If Commie and Hejda return to form, they will be the top defensive pair. Two years ago it was one of the most dominating groups in the league. With John Moore almost guaranteed to make the roster, Klesla will be called upon to mentor him and help elevate his game. I think these two would make a great second pair. If Moore somehow loses a roster spot, Rusty and Russ should play together.
2010-11 Season Predictions:
While I would like to think Rusty is finally over his IR-plagued past, I have to be realistic. I hope I'm wrong.
He will get significant time on the Power Play.
Will spend time as a top two defenseman
Will be paired with John Moore and/or Kris Russell to form a formidable scoring blue line.
"Out there" Prediction:
Plays a full season, injury free.
There you have it, now let us hear it in the comments!