Custom Search

Is Kessel destined to be Jason Spezza? Is that “ceiling” high enough for Leaf fans?

A gritty effort (despite travel woes) could not overcome an out of the ordinary goaltending performance by Cam Ward Tuesday night.  The result was a 4-3 Leaf loss at the ACC.

It was interesting to see Jay Harrison and Ian White in action for the Hurricanes.  Leaf fans will remember that both were Leaf draft choices in the Quinn era, and both, at one time, looked to be possible future blueline cornerstones.

I never thought I would write these words, but is there a better all-around player on the Leafs than Grabovski?  I was going to say that he is the prototypical small forward who is a nice fit in the post lockout, more wide open (less hooking and holding in the neutral zone) NHL.  But it's actually more than that.  He is, most nights, playing a hard, determined brand of hockey. Maybe I'm wrong, but to me, he's different player than I saw two years ago.

I'm not a big fan of mid-season All-Star selections, but he, hands down, should be the Leaf selection.

Maybe the most complimentary thing I can say is:  where would these Leafs be without him?

Interesting that Kadri sat again.  I posted in detail after the Jersey game about Kadri's performance (click on his name to read the post), as I had made a point of watching him very closely.  Wilson must have felt that Kadri did not quite come out of the press box with the jump and attention to detail that he was hoping for.

I've posted for the past couple of weeks that the Leafs, full stop, will need extraordinary goaltending to get on a roll.  So far, that hasn't happened.  I don't believe in one-game stats in isolation, but an .852 save percentage won't get it done.  The Leafs need more.

How under-appreciated is Kaberle?  For all his flaws (and maybe there aren't that many, really), the guy makes plays, skates guys off so smoothly and comes away with the puck way more often than not.  And I had no idea the guy hadn't been given a minor penalty in ages.  That's a remarkable thing for a defenseman.  (I've never been a believer that penalty minutes is a good thing.  For me, it's not a good "stat".  In fact, a lot of guys take way too many bad, useless penalties.  It hurts the team, tires guys out unnecessarily and, most obviously, leads to goals for the other team.)

 A defender that isn't constantly in the box is hard to find—and replace.

When you post almost every day, 365 days of the years, odds are a writer will end up repeating him or herself.

And I’m no doubt repeating myself here, but, as much angst as there has been about Phil Kessel not scoring in recent weeks, I'll say it again: a few inches here and there (as in, a couple more goals) and coaches, fans and media alike may be much less critical.  The guy has had his chances and the puck is simply not going in.  I like Bozak a lot but for Kessel, it's no doubt very different than his Boston days when he played with Savard.

(It was classic Kessel in many ways on Tuesday night against Carolina.  Two goals, but a minus one on the night, as his line was on the ice for the game-winner.)

That said, it is indeed at these very times (a classic goal-scoring “slump”) that a given player’s game is isolated, assessed and broken down into near microscopic detail.  For Kessel’s part, he is seen, and accurately so, as a pretty fast guy, with good hands, a very quick release, someone who can make plays and score goals.

The flip side of the assessment is that he is not tough and is prone to lengthy scoring droughts (though his season-end numbers usually look good on paper).  He tends to avoid the gritty zones, most noticeably the front of the net.  He seems to be a guy reluctant to play hard all the time in his own zone and the end result is that he is not a complete player at this juncture in his still young NHL career.

In some ways he reminds me of long-time Senators forward Jason Spezza.

Now we should remember that Spezza (unfortunately injured at the moment) did not immediately jump into Jacques Martin’s line-up when he was drafted as an 18 year-old.  It took some more time in junior and some development in the AHL.  He eventually made his mark as a big-time offensive threat on a very good Ottawa team—good enough that it contended for a Stanley Cup just a few short years ago.

For his part, Kessel made the direct jump as an 18 year-old with the Bruins, and has fought through health setbacks and a trade to be a first-line player, like Spezza was, at the age of 23.

Spezza, like Kessel, is not a grinding, rugged forward, and has never been one to fight or play the tough-guy role.  Neither would be mistaken for a Brendan Shanahan or Gary Roberts.  But both Spezza, and for that matter Kessel, were elite offensive players as teenagers and both have scored at the NHL level with some frequency.

They are both legitimate star players.

Now my question for Ottawa-based readers, particularly those who have seen Spezza a lot over the years and can provide an assessment of how he has matured and developed, is:  is Spezza becoming an all-around forward?  Is he closer now than he was a few years ago to being a “complete” player?

In Toronto, that’s one of the questions Leaf fans have about Kessel.  First, will he become a consistent goal scorer, and second, can he morph into that all-around player coaches (and fans) like to see?

I’ve never had the impression that Spezza was the classic “leader” and I have the same notion about Kessel.  I may well be wrong, but that is my sense about both guys.  That doesn’t mean they can’t become leaders, as some guys do later in his career, but they don’t seem to be there just yet.

Of course Spezza is older and much farther along the development path than Kessel.  Most guys have to play in the playoffs a few times to get a taste of the intensity and what is required to be successful at that time of year.  Kessel has not had that opportunity yet in Toronto but has earned 15 points in 15 career playoff games (in Boston), while Spezza has performed with some distinction in that regard (46 points in 46 career playoff games) for the Senators.

So, I’d be interested in hearing not only from Sens’ fans about Spezza but also from Leaf fans:  would the Spezza “model” be good enough for you, if that was the ceiling that Kessel hit but didn’t surpass?



  1. As a Leaf fan living in Ottawa... no, Spezza is not getting any better a complete player.

    He still makes ridiculous mistakes in the neutral zone, and you still can't use him in any sort of crucial defensive situation.

  2. Number wise, Kessel isn't Spezza thoughs (30+ goals and 60 points a year is more like Knubble or Zetterberg without the backchecking...)

  3. Spezza and Kessel? I don't understand, they're not really the same type of player. Spezza is a playmaker. He needs a sniper to pass to. Kessel is a sniper with an AMAZING release, he needs a centre to take passes from. It's too bad they couldn't be together. FYI, this is why Heatley leaving Ottawa screwed them, but I hope everyone has figured that out.

    Kessel doesn't appear have a defensive bone in his body though, he's pure offence. Spezza was like that too, but recently (really recently, like... end of last season and this season) his defensive game has improved BIG time.

    I don't know what DGB is talking about to be honest. I mean, I wouldn't call Spezza the greatest defensive forward ever, but he has made leaps and bounds in the last year and seems to be making a conscious effort make changes. Yeah, he still gives the puck away... but it's high risk-high reward. Sure, I would like a little more reward at this point, but I wouldn't want him to completely take that out of his game otherwise he wouldn't have half the assists he does. Do we really have to go through the giveaway stats again and show how these types of players and the plays they make result in these things? I mean, Spezza is not even NEAR the top of that list and has more takeaways than giveaways. A few poorly-timed giveaways by Spezza and the proper media prodding and Leafs fans have their fodder...