After six seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Phil Kessel is looking forward to a fresh start. The 27-year-old was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins as part of a multi-player trade on Wednesday.
Kessel appeared in 446 regular season games with the Leafs scoring 181 goals and 394 points.
“It should be different. It’s a different world there,” Kessel told Dkonpittsburghsports.com. “Obviously, I’m looking forward to this and having a fresh start. I’m actually really excited about that part of it.
“Toronto was a place I loved, and it’s not easy leaving that, even with everything else. That’s the first thought. And then after that, I just see this as an opportunity, a great opportunity to be part of something special in Pittsburgh.”
Kessel is especially excited at the prospect of playing with the talented mix of forwards in Pittsburgh.
“For it to be Pittsburgh … with everything that franchise has meant and two of the best players in the world there … I never would have thought I’d have the chance to play with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, to play on a team like the Penguins,” he said. “It’s just amazing. I’m so pumped.”
During his time in Toronto Kessel played in just one playoff series scoring four goals in six points during the Leafs first round series with the Boston Bruins in 2013. A return to postseason hockey is something the Madison, WI native is looking forward to.
“That’s huge. Obviously, when you have a chance to play on a great team, you’re thrilled. Being in Toronto, I got to play in one playoffs in all my years there,” Kessel said. “But that’s the best time of the year, right? Playoff hockey. Hopefully, I’ll get to play in many in Pittsburgh.”
Kessel also believes his game is suited for Pens’ coach Mike Johnston’s system and that he’ll fit in well.
“I think it’ll mesh well. I like to score goals, but I also like to pass the puck,” he said. “In today’s game, you need to have options when you have the puck. And with defensemen like we have joining the rush in Mike’s system, and those guys are great players, yeah, that’ll work with my game. I take a lot of pride in my ability to work with the options I’ve got.”
For those wondering, the Pens and Leafs meet for the first time on Oct. 17 in Pittsburgh. Kessel will make his return to Toronto on Oct. 31.