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What will Phil Kessel become?

Trade deadline day could be businer than we expected, despite some feverish activity early last week.  This  past weekend was quiet and many teams probably wanted to see exactly where they stand before they determine how aggressvie they will be.  I hope to post and Tweet throughout the day on Monday.

Reimer's departure because of injury may have jarred the Leafs a bit in Atlanta.  They so obviously believe in him and have clearly leaned on him for some time now. 

But I didn't concur with the Sportsnet analyst crew after the Thrasher game, when they seemed to point to Giguere for the loss.  We all know he has been hurt and came off the bench "cold", but I thought he made some big-time stops late in the game to secure at least one point for a tiring Toronto squad.

The Leafs have continued to pile up points since the All-Star break.  They had struggled, until this current run, to build on earlier jumping-off points.  But they have continued to earn points this time.  They are playing 2-1 games, 6-5 games, whatever it takes to get points.

Are they making mistakes?  Of course.  But they are battling.  If they could have made it 3-0 in the second period, you have to think the game was over.  The Thrashers looked dispirited and often disorganized.  The Reimer injury seemed to give them life.  And Mason made some huge saves to keep it at 2-0.

Another solid, uneventful night (which is a good thing for a young defenseman) for Aulie, who averaged about 20 minutes a game on the weekend.  Kessel potted another.  MacArthur worked hard against his old team, as did the entire team.  They simply ran out of steam.

As I write this I have no idea how Reimer is, but you would think The Monster, after playing well through five games with the Marlies, will join the team this week.


One of the challenges that hockey scouts who comb junior hockey rinks have is “projecting”, as hockey people like to say, what a player might become four or five years down the road.

They are looking at, in most cases, kids, really.  At 17 and 18, most youngsters are just that, youngsters—emotionally and physically.  They may have a world of talent but perhaps not the “right” attitude or work ethic just yet.  Some lack maturity.  Some are physically not developed.  (Some, like Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Sydney Crosby, have either enough size or skill or smarts to “make it” at 18, but they remain the relatively rare exception.)

Whatever, the ability of a scout to look at and assess a player’s future all-around potential is a skill, though quite likely as much about good guessing as it is “science”.

Now, looking at Kessel in Toronto, and trying to determine what kind of player he will become is an interesting project.  I heard someone on the radio say today:  “Kessel is what he is…”.  I’ve said the same thing myself, but I’m trying to look beyond what he seems to be right now—a fast guy with a quick release who can be hot and cold in terms of production.

Now completing his fifth NHL season, he won’t turn 24 until the fall.  So here is a guy who has almost played enough games to qualify for his NHL pension and he is not even in his prime.

He has pro experience galore for a young guy, but we are probably only seeing some of what he can be.  For me, it’s just not determining whether he will be a consistent 40-goal scorer every year.  It’s trying to see his play and determining, will be become an Yzerman, a Modano?  These are forwards who, like Kessel, had all kinds of talent as young players.  Yzerman was the guy with smarts and vision and amazing hockey sense for a young guy.  Modano had that shot and blazing speed.

But while both were really good NHL players, how long did it take them before they really became “great”—high-end, complete players?  Close to a decade?  More?

In both cases, maturity probably made a difference.  They both became captains.  They no doubt had the desire to become “winners” and to get to that next level personally—and team-wise.  But as I recall, and some may disagree, coaching had a lot to do with it.

Yzerman was “this close” to being traded to the expansion Senators at one point in the early-to-mid ‘90s.  But his career turned around when he bought fully into Scotty Bowman’s approach.

Similarly, Modano was a very nice player until Ken Hitchcock helped take him, it seems, to the elite level that the naturally gifted guys only really get to when they became all-around contributors and can do more than create offense.

So again, where is Kessel now, and where do you see him in the future?  This isn't about assessing whether the Leafs will over time be perceipved to have won or lost "the trade" with the Bruins.  That will always be in some people's minds, for sure.  But the Leafs have Kessel and as Burke has said, he's not going anywhere.

So what can he be?  What will he become?

We know he can skate.  We know that when the puck is finding the back of the net, he certainly can score.  (My point being that sometimes, at least in my mind, his game is the same from one night to the next, but some nights the puck goes in and everyone thinks he played better.  Sometimes the puck just isn't going in for you and it doesn't mean you're necessarily playing poorly.)  While considered more a shooter than a playmaker, he can certainly make plays.  We all believe that with high-end linemates, he would be even more productive.

All this said, there are questions:  will he become more than a goal-scorer?  Will he be a guy who can ‘carry” a team like the Leafs in key games (Thursday in Montreal being just one game)?  Though he has size, he is not, at the moment, a physical player.  Will he be a difference-maker in the playoffs when physical play is a given and goals are harder to come by?

Beyond that, does he have the will, the commitment to becoming that complete player that I’ve talked about?  Will he ever become a leader, like the aforementioned Yzerman or Modano?  How will he get along with Ron Wilson long-term?

These are things we won’t know for a while yet.  It’s hard to pinpoint when an athlete is in their prime.  It’s no doubt a bit different for every individual.  Some guys bring together desire, experience and skill and stay on top for years.  Others have a short “peak” period.  Some guys see their carer sputter by 28; other can carry on, like Recchi, into their 40s.

At 23, Kessel should have 10 more good years, minimum, ahead of him.  If he plays like some think he can, he may well spend them all in blue and white.

I’d be interested in hearing how readers see his career path progressing.


  1. I'm a Kessel fan. He's a great shooter, and has set up some beautiful plays. What many fans forget is that not only does it take time for most players to develop, it takes time to develop the "perfect" lines. I like Lupul with Kessel - let's give it a little time.
    In fact, patience is the watchword for the whole team, I'd say. The Leafs have improved - notably, the D is bigger and meaner - finally! I'm not expecting a playoff spot this year, but I think it'll be an entertaining run. I AM expecting a top 8 finish next year.

  2. Thanks Gerund O...Finding the right linemates is important, for sure. It will be interesting to see how Kessel continues to develop his overall game...