COLUMN: Will We Start Talking About Kessel For Hart?

One of the more enticing debates year in and year out is the battle between Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby for the “Best Player in the NHL” title. For the better part of the season, you may have people saying McDavid. In this stretch of the season, people begin saying Crosby.

Qualifying the points leader as the league’s best player is an inaccurate judgement. Currently, that title would go to Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In case you were unaware, the league’s second leading scorer is a Penguin and he’s not name Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. That title would belong to Phil Kessel.

Kessel has been on a tear this season. He has easily been the Penguins most consistent player from the first drop of the puck against St. Louis in October. He has 63 points in 54 games, a pace Kessel has never been on. That pace would be 96 points over the entire 82 game season.

Phil the Thrill has done the majority of his work on the powerplay with 33 of his points coming with the man advantage. He is racking stats up torridly right now.

So here’s the question; Why hasn’t #KesselForHart kicked into a higher gear yet?

The unfortunate likelihood for Kessel is that his 63 points have come in two more games thus far than Kucherov who has more points in less games. Nathan MacKinnon, the Colorado Avalanche superstar, was seemingly the front runner for mid-season MVP until he went down due to injury a few games ago. If he comes back and continues on a rapid pace, he’s likely still the front runner.

Kessel playing on a team with Crosby and Malkin, two players also in the top 10 in scoring, hurts his cause. He’s not single-handedly keeping the Penguins afloat despite scoring points on a consistent clip since the season started.

This goes beyond just Kessel being a Hart Trophy finalist at season’s end.

The next time you have a chance to sit and watch a full Penguins game, shift your focus to Kessel when he’s on the ice. For the first time in his Penguins tenure, Kessel is back checking hard and always skating 100 MPH. This is significant.

Obviously Kessel has been knocked for his defensive work his entire career. He has always been an elite skater and can shoot the puck as hard and wicked as anyone not named Alex Ovechkin. But this season, there almost seems to be an emphasis on becoming a more complete player.

When Rick Tocchet left, it was assumed by many Penguins fans Kessel would act out more as Tocchet was kind of the ‘Kessel Buffer’ if you will. With Mark Recchi assuming the role it seems that Kessel is having his best season as an NHL player.

Maybe it was the lack of winning and the Toronto media that gave Kessel that “lazy” tag over the Maple Leafs portion of his career. He was run out of Boston before that. Now, Kessel is a two-time Stanley Cup champion and he is hungry to three-peat this year. That much is evident on how consistent he has been this season.

#KesselForHart likely won’t have much of a chance unless Kessel can lead the scoring race by about 5 points at season’s end. But you’d be dumb to discount him in any fashion. After all, his most points in one season is 82. He’s got 63 already in just 54 games.

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