Friday, September 3, 2010

Time to step up: Rusty Klesla

  • Defenseman
  • Alternate captain
  • 28 years old, 10th year in National Hockey League
  • $2,975,000 cap hit 
  • 5.0% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of 2013-2014
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 26 games played, 2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points, -7, 26 penalty minutes, 20:06 avg. time on ice
Without question, 2009-2010 represented the highest of highs and the lowest of lows for The Original Blue Jacket.

It started with magic last season for Rostislav Klesla - a new contract announced right before the opener against Minnesota, followed by the game-winning goal in that same game:

Klesla added another goal just two days later against Vancouver, a blazing start to a season that imploded on November 30, 2009 against St. Louis.  Here's how it was described:
Klesla was injured in a mid-ice collision with the Blues' Barret Jackman during the first period of the Blue Jackets' 5-2 victory Monday night. He is believed to have torn a groin muscle and is expected to be sidelined for at least a month. 
Klesla lay on the ice for 5 minutes and did not put any weight on his left leg when he was helped off.
It wasn't just a torn groin muscle - not that such an injury wouldn't be bad enough.  No, he tore stomach muscles, too.  Ironically, that was two days after he put in a monster 26:29 of ice time in against Calgary.  Highest of highs, lowest of lows.  Poor guy could not buy a break.

When you play only 26 games as a projected top two pairing defenseman, your stats don't mean a lot.  And Klesla played only 34 in 2008-2009, so I'm not going to bother diving into his stats.  That's pretty much meaningless, don't you think?

Instead, I'm going to focus on the promise that Klesla has shown me since I started following the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2006.  And I have two key areas to explore.

First, let's remember why - in my opinion - Rusty Klesla got that big new contract right before opening night.  Two words: Tomas Holmstrom.

For all four games of the all-too-brief playoff run, Klesla manhandled the Detroit crease-monkey in ways that I've never seen done to a Red Wing.  I'll fess up, I had never been overly impressed with Rusty up until the playoff appearance.  So few Blue Jackets showed up to play in that series, but there was no doubt in my mind that Rusty Klesla was there to play and to win.  It was a gigantic performance on what, to date, has been the Blue Jackets' biggest stage, and Scott Howson recognized it.

Which brings me to my second point: The Original Blue Jacket thing.  When I started putting this piece together, I assembled the obligatory bullet points at the top.  28 years old, and how many seasons in the NHL?  Four...six...eight...TEN?  Rusty Klesla has been playing in the NHL since he was 18 years old?  How in the world could an 18-year-old Czech step into a totally new franchise in Columbus, Ohio and not be eaten alive?  And then to be hyped as a "franchise defenseman" by the then-majordomo?  Honest to God, I'm amazed that Klesla hasn't shrunk back into his shell like a turtle.  That type of pressure can be rough on adults, let alone an 18-year-old kid.

But, strangely enough, Klesla has persevered.  And he's done it in a friendly way, as best I can tell, exemplified by this legendary exchange, which has been repeated often throughout the life of the Blue Jackets franchise:

My point is, he's made it through the growing pains that would destroy lesser people.  Klesla may not be the next Bobby Orr, but he's a rock for the franchise and its locker room.  And that playoff performance was a tantalizing peek at a defenseman who's ready to step up his game.

So the question lingers: Is Klesla fully recovered from last year's injury-shortened season?  Can he return to playoff form?  Will he?

The laws of physiology come first - If the injuries don't heal, nothing else matters.  But he professed to be at 95% about a month ago and hoped to be 100% in time for training camp.  If he really has recovered, I'm not sure I'd be surprised to see a bounce-back season from number 97.  


  1. Very well written....glad to read something about Rusty that isn't tearing him apart or down. Kudos. :) I totally agree with your statement that as long as he is fully healthy we'll be seeing some great things from him. Like you also said, the start of the season last year (and the playoff games) was some of his best play ever and was a glimpse into what kind of player he can be. I really, really hope this is his year and he can come out and play more games and shut a lot of the nay-sayers up. :)

  2. Thank you, Michelle. I suppose I could've ripped on him, but his recent performance (08-09 playoffs and beginning of 09-10) didn't warrant it. In fact, it seemed to me like he was finally breaking through at the front end of last season.

    And I don't begrudge him signing the contract, either. It's not like Howson had to offer it to him. It's the darned injuries - just when he's about ready to step up....wham, down he goes. Sigh.

    Here's to a healthy 09-10 for The Original Blue Jacket!

  3. DBJ, something to think about, and this just came to my mind, but think about this. Both Rusty and Commodore play on the right side of the defense. Both were hurt alot, and both happen to play on the glove side of Mason, which the High glove side is a known, and exploited, hole. Coincidence? Maybe, but I am thinking not. Might be a partial reasoning for his sub-par year.

  4. WOW, Mark, that's something to think about. THANK YOU for posting the comment. I'll definitely work that thought into my Mason profile.

    (At the same time, the constant injury-driven line reshuffling probably made every line -- left and right sides -- less effective...causing Mase more stress, wouldn't you say? You'd have left siders playing the right to plug holes, and nothing good could come from that.)

  5. I agree totally. Stability is key, and thats definitely something we didn't have on the blue line last year.


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