29-Year-Old Right Wing – Pittsburgh Penguins
Phil Kessel Contract Information:
Signed an eight-year, $64 million extension with the Maple Leafs in October of 2013. Traded to the Penguins in July 2015, with Maple Leafs retaining $1.5 million (15%) of Kessel's salary each season through 2021-22.
Kessel practiced at right wing on a line centered by Evgeni Malkin with Chris Kunitz on Saturday.
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Phil Kessel: Past News Updates ( ▲ View most recent update )
RotoWire's Preseason Outlooks
Kessel saw a big downturn in production for a struggling Leafs team last year, with his goal total falling by a dozen, his point total by 19, and his plus/minus by a whopping 29 ticks from the season before. But he's since been shipped to Pittsburgh, where he's slated to make up one of the most explosive top lines in hockey alongside Sidney Crosby. That's quite a large upgrade over being fed by Tyler Bozak. Kessel thus stands to see a return to his old 80-point days, and with Crosby's expert puck distribution working in his favor, he could quite reasonably hit 40 goals for the first time. His tendency to stay on the ice -- Kessel hasn't missed a game in five years -- will also play well on a Penguins team that has been highly injury-prone for the last few years.
Kessel is a polarizing guy -- some fans love him while others say you can't build a team around him, either on the ice or in fantasy. We beg to differ, particularly in the fantasy arena. Phil the Thrill is one of the most consistent, elite players in the NHL. He has notched at least 20 goals in each of his last six seasons and would have had at least 30 in each if it weren’t for the lockout. He's also rung up at least 30 assists in each of his last four seasons and year-over-year, he's a model of consistency in shots on goal, shooting percentage, power-play production and more. Surprisingly, he does it the hard way -- advanced metrics will show you that he creates all of this offense despite starting 37.8 percent of his shifts (2013-14) in the defensive zone. That's unheard of; he only started 28.4 percent of his shifts last season in the offensive zone, but finished sixth overall in scoring and fifth in goals. Just compare those start zones to Patrick Kane, who scored fewer points despite starting 44.3 percent of his shifts in the opponent's zone (and just 19.4 percent in his own). Forty goals and 95 points will come either this season or next for Mr. Kessel, perhaps earning him some respect around the league along the way.
What's next for Phil the Thrill? He finished 2012-13 in seventh place in NHL scoring with 52 points in 42 games and he showed off a selfless playmaking ability (32 assists) that few ever thought possible. And he has picked up an impressive 134 points in 130 games over the last two seasons. He turns 26 at the start of the season and his best is yet to come. Expect at least 30 goals and a point per game in 2013-14 ... and maybe even a little bit more. He'll be motivated by the thought of a beefy new contract next offseason, so he might even crack the league's top-five scorers.
Another season, another center -- that's the life and times of Phil Kessel. But, honestly -- will that matter? Kessel finished sixth in NHL scoring last season with 82 points and his 37 goals tied for sixth while Tyler Bozak, a guy who's better suited to the third line, was dishing him the puck. Kessel demonstrated tremendous growth in his game last year -- he showed up on the backcheck (go figure) and shed the inconsistent label, as his longest point drought was a whopping three games. He's arguably the NHL's best right winger and that's without a top pivot. So who knows what might be possible with big (and talented) James van Riemsdyk setting him up. He'll be a top-five scorer regardless. Snap him up early.
General manager Brian Burke finally has a top-line center in Tim Connolly to feed Kessel the puck. So does that mean this explosive sniper finally hits 40 goals? There are no guarantees in life but we like the odds if both he and Connolly can stay healthy. Cripes, Kessel proved he can often single-handedly carry his line and produce on his own. He even showed a maturity in his game with fewer droughts later in the season. He even amped things up in the last third of the season, potting 28 points in his last 26 games. Connolly will help Phil the Thrill improve his power-play production significantly so bid early -- right wing is a fantasy vacuum and this guy could easily be one of the top three goal scorers at his position.
Number 81 can flat-out fly. And unlike most other NHLers, he can snipe at top speed. Ahhhh, that wrist shot is one of the best of this generation. His skills are supreme but is he a point-per-game player? Probably not. He's not the kind of guy who can carry his NHL team -- he needs a strong supporting cast (and that's not something he has yet in Toronto). But he will bring your fantasy squad 35 to 40 goals and 65 points this year. Just be cautious in head-to-head leagues -- his production comes in fits and spurts.
Kessel, who is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery that may keep him out of action until mid-November, remains an unsigned restricted free agent. With a trade or offer sheet from another team looking increasingly unlikely, the gifted sniper should be back in a Boston uniform this season. Just 21 years old, Kessel is blessed with electric speed, shiftiness, and a quick shooting release, traits that helped him notch a team-high 36 goals in 70 games last season. Critics say that he shies away from contact and can be smothered by tight checking, but young players with 50-goal potential don't grow on trees, so he’s a player the Bruins are going to try their best to bring him back, even though they are tight against the salary cap at press time.
Sometimes it's easy to forget that Kessel is just 20 years old, but he already has 152 regular season games under his belt and the hope is that his strength and all-around game eventually catch up to his world-class upside on offense. One great sign is that in the playoffs, he showed some mental toughness when he bounced back from three straight scratches with a bang, netting three goals in his next two games, rather than getting down on himself. He's still a work in progress and consistency will be an issue, but those in keeper leagues should note that Kessel has 30- or 40-goal potential once he matures.
Kessel would have cracked the 30-point mark last year, his rookie season, if not for the 11 games he missed after undergoing surgery for testicular cancer in December. If he can stick on one of the Bruins' top two scoring lines, he should easily finish the year in the 50-60 point range.
Kessel is an 18 years old stud but really, how many kids that age can be fantasy frontliners in their first season? In a standard, 12-team league, you should really only carry guys who are guaranteed to score at least 60 points this coming year. Don't get us wrong -- Kessel is going to be a fantastic player. But to expect a ruddy-faced teenager to not only put up the points but also do so with consistency is just asking for trouble. But if you're in a keeper league, you need to take a different kind of look at Kessel who will be the cornerstone for any fantasy franchise in a few very short years.
Kessel is, in a word, electric. This kid hits top speed in just a couple of strides and can go end-to-end in seconds. His on-ice vision is superb, too good perhaps for his collegiate teammates who simply weren't ready for his rocket passes in 2006-07. Sure, his stock slipped a little in his draft year, but this kid will be an impact offensive player in the NHL in a couple short years. Think a combo of Brett Hull and Pat Lafontaine -- yes, he's that good.