Wow. We are entering season three of the Phil Kessel experiment in Pittsburgh. It seems like the trade that acquired him on July 1, 2015 was only yesterday. It sent Pittsburgh hockey into a frenzy.
After winning exactly 0 Stanley Cups in his first nine seasons in the league, Kessel has yet to not win a championship in Pittsburgh.
He has had more fun in two seasons in the NHL than he had in any of the previous nine combined. He meshed perfectly into the “HBK Line” in the first season and found chemistry with Evgeni Malkin come season two.
But, it is what’s ahead that should have fans excited about Kessel, not what he has already done.
He was known as a big-time scorer in Toronto and Boston. He posted two 37-goal seasons and a 36-goal season. He has yet to touch 30 in Pittsburgh.
This has some fans restless. When Kessel has scored while donning a Penguins jersey, it has come in bunches. The problem is, when he doesn’t score, it is usually for long periods of time. Thus, it has led to 26 and 23 goals in the past two seasons respectively.
What shouldn’t concern fans, though, is his play making abilities he has redefined since becoming a Penguin.
In one of his 37-goal seasons (2011-12′), Kessel also had 45 assists. This totaled out to 82 points in 82 games, a point per-game average. This past season, Kessel had 47 assists setting a career high.
A lot of his newly-found game was attributed to former assistant coach Rick Tocchet. Tocchet was said to be the “Kessel Whisperer” by many in the media as rumors flew that Kessel doesn’t have the greatest relationship with head coach Mike Sullivan. Tocchet was hired away by the Arizona Coyotes and will assume head coaching duties there now.
This prompted Ron Cook, one of Pittsburgh media’s more brash and polarizing figures, to go so far as to say the Penguins would trade Kessel in the near future with Tocchet moving on to another team. Cook went as far as calling Kessel’s contract “outrageous” despite the Penguins only paying $6.8 million of the $8 million Kessel is owed.
General manager Jim Rutherford defended Kessel and completely blasted the rumors during the offseason.
“Phil Kessel is an important part of the Penguins,” Rutherford said. “He gets a lot of points. He scores big goals. He sets up big goals. The more impact players that you have, like we have, the better chance you have of winning.”
This fact can’t be disputed. He has played 610 straight games and been a key factor in not only the regular season, but come April and beyond as well.
Kessel has 66 points in 71 playoff games and had two seasons where he was a point per game in the playoffs that season. He has been an unreal playoff performer in Pittsburgh putting up 22 and 23 points respectively.
This year, Kessel is going to knock your socks off. He had 82 points in a season as we talked about previously. I foresee 80 this year. With 35 goals. He’s going to fill the net and prove to everyone why he is being paid as he is. He is going to quiet the Ron Cook’s. And maybe, just maybe, win a third straight Cup.