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Gary Roberts Wednesdays - Phil Kessel

This article has been submitted by Stu Wilkinson.

I’m not going to lie, the CBC stole a little bit of my thunder during Game 7 between the Habs and Bruins on Monday, but I’m sticking to my guns anyway.

After the disastrous NHL Lockout of 2004-05, hockey came back with a younger and more creative workforce. I believe that there’s a two tier system for the young talent in the league. The first tier consists of the young superstars that are the pride of the league — OV and Crosby. The second tier, the “up and comers” of the NHL if you will, contains a much more diverse group of players. They range from under the radar Art Ross Trophy candidates like Geno Malkin to “HE DID WHAT?!” highlight providers like Jonathan Toews and Rick Nash. Think about that second class of young guns, and who’d you throw in there. Eric Staal, Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Milan Lucic, the Edmonton Oilers, the list is filled with under-25 NHLers making an impact with their respective clubs. Now you may have guessed the point of this article’s first paragraph from its title, but I’m going to deliver the goods anyway. Phil Kessel should be in your head as part of that second tier of young stars in the NHL.

Sure, you slept on my newfound hero Phil and his Bruins. You either thought Phil was an over-hyped bust or had never heard of him. When the Bruins snuck into the playoffs this year you thought to yourself, “Awesome, that’s an easy win for the Habs.” Not so fast, mon ami! The Bruins managed to stretch the series to seven games, with Kessel playing a big role with three goals in their wins in Games 5 and 6 (he was a healthy scratch for Games 2, 3, and 4). The man they call “Special K” also had a solid Game 7, generating several chances in the first and second periods before the game got out of hand thanks to the Brothers Kostitsyn.

Kessel’s only 20 (which may explain why he was benched after a weak Game 1 against the Habs) but he’s already become a very important part of NHL history, both on and off the ice. When he was an NHL prospect playing for USA Hockey’s National Development Team he was touted as Sidney Crosby’s American rival, but Crosby’s draft year was in 2005, and Kessel remained a prospect while Sid the Kid joined the Penguins. Phil the Thrill took his show to the Minnesota Golden Gophers of the NCAA, but his performance dipped, and he ended up going 5th overall to the Bruins in the 2006 NHL Draft, behind Erik Johnson, Jordan Staal, Toews, and Nicklas Backstrom. This had to be a disappointment for a kid once ranked first among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.

Kessel’s setbacks continued after the draft in a big way — in late 2006 he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, the kind that Tom Green taught us all to avoid back in the early 2000’s. (As an aside, how great are Glenn Humplik and Phil in that video? Talk about future GRW candidates!) Kessel ended up missing only eleven regular season games because of his cancer surgery and ended up winning the NHL’s Bill Masterton Trophy for the 2007 season. In 2008 he continued to improve, chalking up 19 goals for Boston (four more than Marc Savard). This, of course, brings us to where we are today – the NHL Playoffs, and Boston’s surprising friskiness against Montreal.

Kessel showed during Boston’s scrappy run to Game 7 in Montreal that he’s ready to become a key cog in the Bruins machine. With the young core the Bruins have in place and legitimate veteran stars like Zdeno Chara and Savard working with him on the power play, Kessel could easily move back onto the radar of hockey fans everywhere next season. I really think that he has a shot to have one of the most impressive careers out of that group of second tier young stars in the NHL. Be aware, not only for your fantasy league, but also for your favorite team’s playoff chances if they happen to play in the Bruins division (that’s you, Ottawa and Toronto).

Inside the Numbers
176 goals with the Madison Capitals in 2001-02
66 career NHL points
1 World Junior Championship scoring championship
9 shootout winning goals
1 case of underage drinking investigated by a Minneapolis network affiliate

This article has been submitted by Stu Wilkinson.

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One Response to “Gary Roberts Wednesdays - Phil Kessel”

  1. Sye Says:

    I like kessel, but for a while I had no idea he was so young. I swear to god he looks 30.

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