In acquiring Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh landed one of the NHL’s premier snipers — a five-time 30-goal scorer that, according to head coach Mike Johnston, will open training camp playing alongside arguably the NHL’s best set-up man in Sidney Crosby.
So, unsurprisingly, there’s been plenty of talk about how much Kessel’s going to score.
Kessel’s former coach in Toronto, Ron Wilson, sees him netting “at least” 40 goals in his first year as a Penguin. Pundits have since debated various over/under totals (see here and here and here), but the 40 benchmark seems to be the one most identify with.
Well for starters, Kessel’s never got there before. His career high is 37 — achieved twice — and few have forgotten last year’s disappointing campaign, in which he only found the back of the net 25 times.
There’s also no real guarantee who his center will be.
While Johnston suggested Kessel will start with Crosby, it’s unclear if they’ll stick together beyond the preseason.
“We have eight exhibition games, so with the games we want to try combinations together so we’re ready for the beginning of the season,” Johnston said, per NHL.com. “We want to give guys a chance to play together, but we also want to take a look at some different looks in practice. So don’t get enamored if some practice there are some different combinations.
“We need to take a look at it as we head in and approach the beginning of the season.”
Some, like NHL.com’s Dan Rosen, argue that Kessel is actually a better fit with Evgeni Malkin — who, you’ll recall, propelled James Neal to his first (and only) 40-goal campaign in 2011-12.
(Neal is also the last Pens winger to score 40 goals in a single season, for what it’s worth.)
So there are plenty of variables floating around.
Regardless of where he plays or who he plays with, one thing is for certain — next year, Kessel will have the most talented centers of his professional hockey career. Does that translate into a 40-goal campaign?