Phil Kessel‘s time in Toronto was memorable to say the least. While playing for the Leafs, the sniper endured some highs and lows, but mostly lows.
From a local writer complaining about his daily hot dog intake to the first round collapse in Game 7 of the 2013 playoffs against Boston, Kessel has seen and heard it all.
Being under the microscope in Toronto definitely took its toll on Kessel, but that didn’t stop him from leading the team in scoring all six years he was there.
On Saturday, Kessel will face his former team for the first time since they traded him to the Penguins last off-season.
After Pittsburgh’s morning skate, the winger did admit that he’s expecting it to be weird.
Coming into this season, many predicted that Kessel would have a breakout season playing with Sidney Crosby. Through four games that hasn’t been the case.
The 28-year-old has just one goal and one assist in his first four games with the Pens, but he’s confident he and his teammates will turn things around.
“It’s been good,” said Kessel. “We’ve been getting a lot of chances but we’re just not getting anything to go in the net so far, right? It’s going to take time to improve and we’ll get it going here.”
Tonight’s game should be interesting, but his return to the Air Canada Center on Oct. 31 will generate even more attention.
After being shutout in their season opener, the Pittsburgh Penguins got on the board early in the second period of tonight’s game against the Arizona Coyotes. Appropriately, it was Phil Kessel that struck first.
Rather than being the result of a fancy play with Sidney Crosby, Kessel scored by knocking the puck away from Coyotes captain Shane Doan and then firing a wrister past Mike Smith.
Acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs over the summer in a blockbuster trade, the expectation is that uniting one of the best snipers in the game with arguably the league’s best forward in Sidney Crosby will make them one of the most dangerous duos. That made the Penguins’ inability to score in its opener against Dallas on Thursday all the more jarring, even though they obviously can’t be judged based solely off of a single game.
Kessel’s goal didn’t immediately reverse Pittsburgh’s fortunes though though. While he was able to tie the game, Arizona’s Jordan Martinook retook the lead just 1:12 minutes later and that 2-1 edge persisted until the second intermission.
It seems online bookmaker Bovada is a big believer in the idea that Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel are going to make for a great duo. That’s at least one way of interpreting their new odds for the 2015-16 award winners.
Crosby stands out from the crowd as the favorite to win both the Hart Trophy (7/2) and Art Ross Trophy (3/2) after he fell short of both of those honors for the 2014-15 campaign. However, his projected linemate was given very favorable odds as well.
Kessel was tied with Steven Stamkos for the fourth best odds to win the Art Ross Trophy (17/2) and was third (8/1) after only Alex Ovechkin and Stamkos (5/2 each) in the Rocket Richard race. With the exception of 2014-15, when Kessel struggled along with the rest of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he has been a consistently great sniper for a while now. Kessel has never scored more than 37 goals in a single campaign, but he also hasn’t had a center like Crosby to work with until now.
It’s worth noting that teammate Evgeni Malkin was given 20/1 odds for either of the Art Ross and Richard Trophies, although he does have 15/1 odds for the Hart while Kessel wasn’t on that list at all.
When it comes to the Calder Trophy, it’s expected to be a battle between Connor McDavid (4/7) and Jack Eichel (4/1), with McDavid being the clear favorite. Sam Bennett (7/1), Sam Reinhart (9/1), and Max Domi (12/1) round out the top-five.
While Price isn’t the favorite to repeat as the Hart Trophy winner (10/1), he is projected to win his second straight Vezina (7/2), although Henrik Lundqvist isn’t far behind in the odds (9/2).
Drew Doughty (7/2) is the favorite to win the Norris over the last three winners; Erik Karlsson (4/1), P.K. Subban (9/2), and Duncan Keith (13/2).
Yes, it’s true that these games don’t “count.”
Yes, it’s also true that we’ll forget about most incidents that don’t lead to 10-game suspensions or big injuries.
Even so, some hockey fans appreciate getting a rundown of the more interesting moments from a given night of the pre-season, so let’s glide through a few quick bits.
- Plenty of eyes (at least in the hockey world) were on Phil Kessel as he made his “debut” with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He didn’t disappoint, scoring twice as the Pens beat the Carolina Hurricanes 7-3.
- Mathew Dumba scored the only goal, in OT, as the Minnesota Wild won 1-0 against the Winnipeg Jets:
NHL.com has a nice roundup if you want to catch up on all of the pre-season action from Tuesday. (Also, take a gander at Rotoworld’s NHL section.)
Oh yeah, and in case you missed it, Jack Eichel definitely stood out on Monday.
The acquisition of James van Riemsdyk from the Philadelphia Flyers back in the summer of 2012 has paid off nicely for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he’s something of a question mark now.
He had a career-high of 40 points before his first season with the Maple Leafs, but has gone on to record 75 goals and 149 points in 210 contests with the Leafs. The thing is though, he did that while spending more than three-quarters of his even-strength playing time on a line with Phil Kessel. Even when van Riemsdyk was selected to represent Team USA in the 2014 Winter Olympics and averaged more than a point per game, it was with Kessel at his side.
Now that Kessel has been traded to Pittsburgh, the Leafs will be looking to van Riemsdyk to help keep their offense going, but he’s also one of the players that could be most effected by the move.
“That’s a good question,” van Riemsdyk said when asked what it will be like for him without Kessel, per TSN. “Now we’ll see it more so.”
While it’s a potential problem for van Riemsdyk, it’s also an opportunity to demonstrate that he can still be a serious offensive threat without the likes of Kessel. van Riemsdyk is still just 26 years old, so he’s one of the players that could be in a leadership role once Toronto emerges from its current rebuilding process.