The Pittsburgh Penguins are pretty darn excited to have Phil Kessel in the fold, to say the least. They’ve been promoting every single move the former Toronto Maple Leaf scapegoat has made since his arrival, documenting his first shot as a Penguin at the practice facility.
Some reports suggested that Kessel dropped about 13 pounds after working out with Gary Roberts over the summer, but the forward refuted the rumours and said that he’s the “Same as I’ve always been.”
Kessel’s Pittsburgh teammates are obviously enthusiastic, too.
“I think everybody is excited to have [Phil] as a teammate, to know with one chance in the slot he can change a game pretty quickly,” Sidney Crosby said earlier this week. “Those guys aren’t easy to find. Regardless of who plays with him, he’s going to create a lot of offence.”
General manager Jim Rutherford traded Kasperi Kapanen and Scott Harrington, two prospects, along with Nick Spaling and some draft picks to land Kessel and you have to think he doesn’t regret a thing. Despite the steep price, it’s a pretty sweet deal for the Penguins. Kessel is sixth in the NHL in goals scored since the 2008-2009 season and he’s still one of the game’s purest offensive threats.
Evgeni Malkin, another of the game’s purest offensive threats, thinks his new teammate can put the puck in the net to the tune of at least 50 goals. “I know him as a sniper,” Malkin said. “He likes to score goals. He’s flying every game. I think if he plays with Sid, he can score 50 goals at least. He has everything.”
Kessel’s best career season came in 2013-2014 when he had 37 goals for the Maple Leafs. In 688 career games, he has 247 goals.
The prospects of putting a talent like Kessel with Crosby and/or Malkin even has other elite players in the NHL on guard.
“Hopefully, they can’t figure it out either,” Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said of Pittsburgh’s attempts at finding a workable line with Kessel. “If they do, then we’re all in trouble. That’s an overdose of skill, if Kessel ends up playing with one or the other. It’s pretty amazing what a pure sniper, pure goal-scorer, could do with two guys that can move the puck and control the puck like Crosby and Malkin.”
Both Crosby and Malkin clearly want to team with Kessel, with Malkin suggesting that he’d even “take his time” on a line change to snag some playing time with the sniper.
The hope is that Kessel’s time in Pittsburgh will be significantly different from his time in Toronto, where he was often blamed for the team’s woes and criticized for his conditioning despite being one of the best players on the roster. While expectations are high, he’ll also have more to work with and less pressure as a result. That could result in that 50-goal season Malkin’s predicting.