Surveyed NHLers expect big season from Kessel

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Phil Kessel will score at least 40 goals in 2015-16.

That’s the opinion of 13 NHL players among the 17 that participated in that survey question for USA Today.

While Kessel finished with 25 goals during the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rough 2014-15 campaign, no player questioned felt he would finish with less than 30 goals now that he can count on getting regular minutes with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh. With Crosby being the more likely of the two linemates for Kessel, more than half of those asked also named Crosby as the favorite to win the Art Ross Trophy. John Tavares was a distant second.

It’s not hard to see why fans and NHLers alike are optimistic about Kessel’s future with the Penguins. It’s not just the fact that he’ll be able to play alongside Crosby; it’s also that he managed to be one of the league’s most prolific goal scorers for much of his run with the Toronto Maple Leafs despite never having a top-tier center to work with. If he could score 37 goals in each of the 2011-12 and 2013-14 campaigns while playing primarily with Tyler Bozak, then what will Kessel be capable of after getting an upgrade as substantial as the one he just got?

USA Today also surveyed a total of 35 players on a variety of other questions with one of the highlights being the results for: “Name one sleeper team that is better than people realize.”

While Connor McDavid‘s Edmonton Oilers and Jack Eichel‘s Buffalo Sabres tied for second place with five points each, the Columbus Blue Jackets won with eight votes.

Related: Malkin: Kessel ‘can score 50 goals’ with Crosby