‘It’s hard to find players like Phil Kessel’

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For all the criticisms of Phil Kessel — and we’re not saying they’re all without merit — here are some facts:

— He has 247 goals in 668 career NHL games. Among active players, that’s the 29th-most goals. And he’s only 27.

— Over the last five seasons, only Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, and Corey Perry have scored more goals than Kessel. And Kessel’s center has mostly been Tyler Bozak. In Pittsburgh, it’ll be Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

That’s why Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is excited to have acquired Kessel, whom he considers “right there” in a class with Ovechkin and Stamkos.

“It’s hard to find players like Phil Kessel,” Rutherford told TSN.

Not only did Rutherford get the player he wanted without giving up Derrick Pouliot or Olli Maatta, two young defensemen the Pens will need even more now, he convinced the Leafs to eat $1.25 million per year of Kessel’s salary.

Without that concession by the Leafs, the deal couldn’t have happened, Rutherford said, noting that the Penguins already have Crosby, Malkin, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury signed to big, long-term contracts.

Oh, and Rutherford isn’t done yet. He still hopes to add another winger, as well as a fourth-line center.