VANCOUVER - Andrew Ebbett can relate to Ryan Kesler's plight as he attempts to take over his job temporarily.
Ebbett, a candidate to fill in the hole created by Kesler's absence from the centre spot on the Vancouver Canucks' second line, is attempting to overcome adversity of his own. A journeyman forward, Ebbett was limited to 18 games in the 2011-12 NHL season because of a broken collarbone and foot injuries.
"It was tough," said Ebbett. "I'd never been through something like that. ... It was definitely a learning situation. The key for me was just setting goals. Both times, I set a deadline of when I wanted to get back playing, and I got to it both times."
After signing with the Canucks as a free agent, Ebbett missed 12 weeks with his collarbone injury and, shortly after recovering, another six weeks for the feet.
Now, he hopes to have good timing in an offensive role, something he has not always had in a six-year journeyman NHL career.
"I've come in this year hungry," said Ebbett, who excelled during the lockout playing for Vancouver's top farm team, the Chicago Wolves of the AHL.
"I've worked out a lot. It helped me with my strength having that second half off last year. I did a lot of work in the gym, and then to have a full summer, I started working out, probably, a month earlier than I usually do."
Ebbett, a 30-year-old Calgary native who was never drafted, is with his fifth NHL club. After four seasons at the University of Michigan, he signed with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and then moved on to Chicago, Minnesota and Phoenix while also seeing duty with the Ducks' and Coyotes' AHL affiliates in Portland and San Antonio.
"I've bounced around a little bit all over the place," said Ebbett. "But, I think, in the last couple years, I've shown my versatility, and I've shown that I can be a useful guy to have. I can play different positions and different situations."
He is battling for Kesler's playing minutes with Jordan Schroeder, Vancouver's top draft pick (22nd overall) in 2009, who has yet to impress enough for duty with the Canucks, and also spent the lockout with the Wolves. The stakes are much higher this season, because at the outset of the 2011-12 campaign, Ebbett was just trying to earn a roster spot.
The second-line centre spot has also become more significant in the lockout-shortened 48-game season. Coach Alain Vigneault said Monday he plans to manage Daniel and Henrik Sedin's minutes more and give more playing time to the other three lines.
But Ebbett, who toiled mainly on the third and fourth lines when he was healthy last season, is not taking Vigneault's consideration of him for promotion for granted.
"I'm still trying to make the team," said Ebbett. "We have a bunch of guys here still. So it's the same. I'm a little more comfortable this year. I know my surroundings, and I know what the coaches want, especially with a little more chemistry with the guys on the team. I know the guys (Mason Raymond and David Booth, among others) who have been playing (with Kesler.)
"So for me just to come in here and work hard this week and step up, take that step up into that second-line centre spot, it would be huge for me."
Ebbett is confident that he can excel in an offensive role, because he played for a while alongside Anaheim snipers Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne. He produced a career-high 32 points with help from the talented duo in 2008-09.
Also, this season, Ebbett has played primarily on the first line with the Wolves, compiling seven goals and 14 assists and ranking second on the team in points.
"In Chicago, he was (coach Scott Arniel's) most consistent player at the centre position," said Vigneault. "Obviously, we're gonna keep that in mind …"
Any plans for Ebbett on the second line are subject to change. Vigneault noted he could change his mind about playing time for each line, and goaltender Roberto Luongo's expected trade could bring another centre who could fill the spot.
But, so far, Vigneault likes what he has seen of Ebbett.
"I think both him and (Schroeder) have looked very good," said Vigneault. "Today, I liked (Ebbett's) practice. I liked (Schroeder's) practice. We're going to continue with this and see what happens in the next couple of days."
Notes: Kesler skated on his own Monday, but the team is not indicating when he might return. … The Canucks signed journeyman defenceman Jim Vandermeer, 32, to a one-year contract. He played last season with San Jose. The signing came after he worked out regularly with Canucks players in Vancouver during the lockout. … Booth sat out for the second straight day with a sore groin. … Defenceman Dan Hamhuis (groin) and winger Zack Kassian (back) skated after missing Monday's first workout with minor injuries.