He has not won a scoring title like Alexander Ovechkin. He does not own a Stanley Cup ring like Sidney Crosby. He isn’t the first player that comes to mind when you think of the elite players in the National Hockey League but he is the driving force of his hockey team and has contributed significantly to their early season success. He is... Phil “The Thrill” Kessel. The 24-year-old Madison, Wisconsin native is the NHL’s leading scorer after 24 games played this season. He has helped lead his Toronto Maple Leafs to a tremendous 14-8-2 record to open their 2011-2012 campaign. Kessel leads the league in goals with 16 and points with 31. He ranks fourth in the league with 3 game winning goals this season and is seventh in powerplay scoring with 4 goals on the man advantage.

 Kessel has had a history of being a streaky player. Last season, Kessel finished with an impressive 32 goals but midway through the season he failed to record a goal in fourteen consecutive games. This season has been something different for Kessel. He has recorded points in all but five games thus far this season. He is on pace to shatter his previous career high of 36 goals that he set as a member of the Boston Bruins during the 2008-2009 NHL season. Kessel is trying to lead this Leafs team to a place where they have not been since the 2002-2003 NHL season. While Kessel is proving to be a top notch NHL goal scorer and point producer, it will be worth nothing if the Leafs are unable to qualify for the playoffs come April. Kessel is not the only shinning star on this Leafs team but this is certainly what fans in Toronto have expected from the 24 year old right-winger. Kessel was the first major piece that Brian Burke placed in his puzzle in an attempt to re build this Maple Leafs franchise. The Leafs received Kessel from the Boston Bruins in exchange for two first round draft picks. Tyler Seguin was selected second overall in last year’s NHL entry draft by the Bruins and although he has yet to perform anything near Kessel’s level, he is gradually getting better every game he plays. Many fans believe that the trade was a bust and that Kessel will never to turn out to be who Brian Burke thought he was. Kessel’s great start to this season has certainly quieted the critics but the debate will never end. Leaf Fans will always wonder what it would be like to have Tyler Seguin on this hockey team instead of Kessel.

Phil Kessel recorded 36 goals in 2008-2009 with Marc Savard feeding him the puck as a member of the Boston Bruins. Savard suffered a set back in his career when Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins delivered a hit to the side of his head resulting in a concussion. Savard has been shut down for this season and has participated in only 66 games since Kessel departed from the Bruins after the 2008 season. Since then, Kessel has yet to play with anyone as talented as Savard. He has the potential to be a 50-goal scorer if he was partnered with a playmaking centerman. Tyler Bozak and Tim Connolly are both extremely talented players but cannot produce on a consistent basis and if the Leafs are to ever compete for a Stanley Cup title they need truly need a top line centerman. Kessel has found chemistry with his other linemate, Joffrey Lupul. Lupul has been off to a phenomenal start this season recording 11 goals and 29 points, ranking him second in the league behind Kessel. He and Kessel have combined for 70 points through 24 games this season.

 We will see if Kessel and his Maple Leafs can maintain their stellar play as we move further into this season. Kessel will truly need to step up and produce points for this hockey team on a consistent basis. He is the heart and soul of this team and he has taken them on his shoulders leading them to where they are today. There are going to be hurdles to overcome throughout the rest of this season but in order to compete for a playoff spot, the Leafs must persevere and lean on the NHL’s leading scorer to lift them to their first playoff birth since the 2002-2003 NHL season. Kessel is truly an amazing athlete and he has shown that this season. He seems to have reached a new level of maturity this season. Kessel is as focused as he has ever been and he is in the best shape of his career. Kessel seems to have taken control of his true natural talents and if he is able to remain focused as we move further into this season, he should continue to flourish as one of the NHL’s top point producers. Kessel and the Leafs have a bright future ahead of them and this early season success has given fans a sense of what is to come for this Maple Leafs franchise. 

 

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