To say Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel has been dominating through his first three games of the 2011-12 season might be a bit of a stretch, but nobody can argue with his numbers (five goals, three assists, eight points, plus +7 rating).
Given his substantial totals Kessel should receive NHL Player of The Week honors; serving notice that, despite all the laughter at his being selected last overall at the NHL All-Star Draft last winter, that Kessel is ready to shut a few mouths this season.
Kessel has long been admired for his finishing ability, putting together three consecutive 30-plus goal scoring seasons in a row with totals of 36 (2008-09), 30 (2009-10) and 32 (2010-11).
That’s 98 goals over the past three seasons, which puts Kessel right up there with the NHL’s best. Some of the players Kessel has bettered in the goal scoring department over the past three seasons include Loui Eriksson (92), Ryan Kesler (92), Jonathan Toews (91), Martin St. Louis (90), Alex Burrows (89) and Marian Hossa (89) and he was just two goals off the pace of Bobby Ryan (100), three goals off the pace of Daniel Sedin (101) and just seven off the pace of Rick Nash, who had 105 goals over the past three seasons.
In fact, Kessel has the 16th highest goal scoring total over the past three seasons, which proves once and for all that Kessel is an elite talent, at least where goal scoring is concerned.
Emerging with a plus/minus rating of minus-20 last season, critics (and deservedly so) often attacked Kessel’s offensive accomplishments as they were often overshadowed by a lack of commitment to the defensive side of the game.
Thus far, and yes, it’s only three games into the season, Kessel looks to be more committed to defense, as proven by his committment to back checking and his plus+7 seven rating, which just happens to be the best in the NHL.
Kessel also leads all NHL players in goals (five), points (8) and game winning goals with two(tied with Johan Franzen and Jack Johnson).
Often criticized for being a streaky player, Leaf fans from coast-to-coast are hoping that the Kessel we have watched the first weeks of the season is the real deal, not the one that struggled with his defense, consistently gave away the puck and seemingly took nights off in 2010-11.
When Brian Burke traded for Phil Kessel in 2009-10 he was chastised for paying too big of a price tag. The debate over what Burke did or didn’t give up for Kessel will march on for years to come, but what we can say is that Burke has a legitimate 30-goal scorer, who, at just 24-years of age, has a ton of upside and untapped talent to be discovered.
He may not be the most popular guy in the NHL, he may have had to endure the embarrassment of being the last one standing at the NHL All-Star Game Draft, but when the NHL announces the player of the week Phil Kessel will quietly be the last guy standing, which says a lot about the kid, don’t you think?
Until next time,