Getting traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Pittsburgh Penguins may wind up being the best thing Phil Kessel ever had happen to him in his professional career. Then again, it could wind up being the worst.
On one hand, Kessel no longer will feel the need to be the top dog on his team, the one expected to put the club on his back and score all the big goals. That onus will continue to fall on Pittsburgh’s dynamic duo of captain Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
On the other hand, Kessel will have to prove his reputation for being lazy, uncoachable and difficult to get along with is false. Crosby, for one, won’t stand for such behavior and will make sure his tenure in the Steel City is a short one if it rings true.
For now, however, the face of the Penguins is glad to have a player with Kessel’s talent on the roster.
“We’re happy to have him on our team,” Crosby told the club’s website via text. “He brings a lot of speed and a great shot.”
Kessel’s offensive ability is unquestioned. The 27-year-old has hit the 20-goal plateau in each of his last seven seasons, setting a career high with 37 in 2011-12 while with the Maple Leafs and matching it two campaigns later.
A three-time All-Star who was selected by the Boston Bruins with the fifth overall pick of the 2006 draft, Kessel overcame testicular cancer during his rookie season of 2006-07 and went on to win the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. He spent two more campaigns in Beantown before being traded to Toronto prior to the 2009-10 season for two first-round picks and a second-round selection.
Kessel had a somewhat rocky relationship with the media during his time in Toronto, but that didn’t prevent him from scoring 30 or more goals in four of his first five campaigns with the Leafs. The only season in which he didn’t hit the mark in that stretch was the lockout-shortened campaign of 2012-13.
Even though he put up the points, the speedy Kessel had a tumultuous time in Toronto. He’s hoping the change of scenery will result in a much more enjoyable experience.
“Obviously, the team’s great, they’ve got great players and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the city, so I’m really excited,” he told the team’s website. “The fans were always great when we played there, so it’ll be great to get a chance to play in front of them.”
Kessel’s skill set will be a nice compliment to those of Crosby and Malkin, and vice versa. The Wisconsin native had no one near the caliber of Pittsburgh’s two superstars on his line while playing with the Leafs and should only see his numbers rise as a result.
“Those are two of the best players in the world, if not the best players in the world,” Kessel said. “So whenever you get a chance to play with those guys, it’s a great opportunity and I’m thrilled.”
If Kessel proves the accusations about his work ethic and personality are untrue, the feeling undoubtedly will be mutual.