Phil Kessel‘s detractors are really running low on material.
I shouldn’t take a rancorous tone with this piece and instead focus purely on all the great things Kessel does for this franchise, and we’ll arrive there eventually, but I can’t resist… Let’s rhyme off all the recycled BS that has for years surrounded Kessel’s name in hockey debates.
“Streaky, inconsistent, hot and cold.”
Proven again this season, Kessel is only streaky so far as goal scoring in hockey is streaky. His offensive numbers from a point production standpoint have been as consistent as the tides (and yes, we can explain those).
Kessel’s four games without a point to start his 2012-13 campaign in January was his first four-point pointless streak as a Leaf since the midpoint of the 2010-11 season. After his tough-luck start to the season, Kessel never went more than two games without a point en route to finishing tied for 7th in league scoring, a year after finishing sixth in a combined 134 points in 130 games over two seasons. Elite.
“Not a big game player.”
Isolate Kessel’s games after his down start and he racked up a whopping 49 points in 38 games. With the Leafs in position to make the playoffs for the first time in 9 years, Kessel recorded a remarkable 9 goals and 18 points in 12 April games. He followed that up with four goals and 6 points in the playoffs against his previously insurmountable adversaries in the Boston Bruins.
Anybody who knows amazing hockey talent when they see it recognizes Kessel is a dynamic offensive threat who is just as dangerous as a provider as he is when releasing his rocket-propelled wrist shot. What makes Kessel much more than a one-dimensional scoring winger is his ability to draw attention and open up the ice with his blazing speed and then find the open man; he can create completely on his own. Kessel can sometimes be almost “too good” of a distributor insofar as he occasionally surprises a teammate with 100 mph pass right on the tape before his linemate even knows he’s open. Last year it was Lupul, this season it was JvR.. Kessel’s offensive dynamism makes those around him better; he’s taken talented players to new career highs and hooked Tyler Bozak up with an inflated contract.
I guess, to acknowledge some flaws, Kessel will never be the strongest winger on the defensive zone half board. He won’t run somebody over on the forecheck. Not that players readily exist who can do all of those things while consistently producing at Kessel’s level, but there’s a legitimate argument to be made that we rather not have Kessel doing such things in his normal course of business anyways. Since Kessel recovered from his shoulder injury he was rehabbing when Brian Burke acquired him in September of 2009, Kessel has not missed a single game. In the last last three seasons, Phil has played 212 of a possible 212 games. If it means a few fly bys instead of finished checks, I rather have it this way. In saying that, every player needs to find a little extra come playoff time, and Kessel found his extra gear in the post season. He got hit, he hit back, and more importantly, he produced. Underneath the quiet surface there is a ton of competitive fire within Kessel.
As much as I based my writeup around them, the Kessel detractor seems to be a dying breed of Leaf fan, especially after his recent playoff performances. Kessel, and this might remind you of somebody, was brought to Toronto in a controversial trade at a young age as a soft-spoken non-Canadian and many fans seemed all too eager to hate on the guy from the get go, or at least when the team didn’t experience an immediate upturn in the standings. Slowly but surely, Phil is winning over heart after heart after heart in Leafs Nation. And while there is a contract hurdle to clear in the coming months, it’s likely only just the beginning for the 25-year-old hackey player from Wiscansin.
Plays of the Year:
Here, the Bruin demon was officially exorcised in the playoffs. Small piece of the credit goes to Randy Carlyle, who won the matchup battle with Julien for the most part in the series and found creative ways to get Kessel spurts, even if it was just seconds at a time, away from Big Z. It was all he needed on this occasion:
Kessel’s Game 6 game winner… I couldn’t have had a better view of this from where I was in the ACC that night:
Too many awesome plays over the regular season to pick them out individually, so here’s a good compilation:
RATE THIS PLAYER: Out of 10, rate Phil Kessel’s season relative to his role, opportunity/usage and the expectations for the player entering the season. Be sure to back it up.