Overrated, underrated, uncoachable, shy and misunderstood; these are just a few of the adjectives used over the years to describe winger Phil Kessel. One thing that can’t be argued though is his ability to score and make plays at the NHL level. The native of Madison, Wisconsin has netted goals at every level of hockey he’s played and continues to do so.
Kessel honed his skills with the USA National Team Development Program and set a record with the outfit by scoring 104 goals. He then played college hockey at the University of Minnesota in 2005/06 and notched 18 goals and 51 points in his lone season in 39 games. He was named rookie of the year for his league and made the All-Rookie Team. The Boston Bruins took notice of his skills and selected Kessel with the fifth overall pick in the 2006 NHL Draft.
Kessel payed two career games in the minors in 2006/07. He also played 70 games with Boston that season and registered 11 goals and 29 points. He was named the recipient of the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy after the campaign for his dedication and perseverance to hockey after beating testicular cancer. Kessel played two more seasons in Boston and scored a combined 55 goals and 97 points in them along with nine goals and 15 points in 15 playoff games. He led the Bruins with 36 goals and six playoff markers in 2008/09.
Boston traded Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs in September, 2009 for two first round draft picks as well as a second rounder. The Leafs then inked him to a five-year deal worth $27 million. Kessel recorded 30 goals and 55 points in 70 games in his first season in Toronto and followed with seasons of 32 and 37 goals the next two years with the Leafs missing the playoffs all three seasons. The team made the postseason in the shortened 48-game schedule of 2012/13 when Kessel tallied 20 goals and 32 assists. He then added four goals and six points in a seven-game playoff series loss to Boston.
When the 2013/14 season faced off the Leafs and Kessel agreed to an eight-year deal worth $8 million a season. He finished the year with 37 goals and 80 points in 82 games, but dipped to 25 goals and 61 points in 2014/15 with the Leafs missing the playoffs both years. In July, 2015 Toronto traded Kessel in a multi-player deal and received several players and draft picks in return including Kasperi Kapanen and Nick Spaling.
Kessel scored 26 goals and 59 points in his first year as a Penguin and led the team in playoff scoring with 10 goals and 12 assists as the team won the Stanley Cup in 2015/16. The Penguins won their second straight cup the next season when Kessel notched 23 goals and 70 points along with eight goals and 23 points in 25 playoff matches. In 2017/18 he posted 34 goals and a career-high 58 assists and 92 points while contributing a goal and nine points in 12 playoff games.
Heading into 2018/19, Kessel had accumulated 330 goals, 411 assists and 741 points in 914 regular-season games along with 32 goals and 75 points in 83 playoff contests. He also had an Iron Man streak going of 624 games as he hadn’t missed a regular-season contest in eight consecutive seasons.
On the international front, Kessel won a silver medal at the 2010 Olympics and led the 2014 event in scoring with five goals and eight points and was named the best forward and a member of the All-star squad. He won silver at the 2004 World Under-18 Championships where he was named an All-Star and led the scoring parade and won gold at the 2005 tournament and was once again the top scorer, best forward and an All-Star. He led the 2006 World Junior Championships in assists and points. Kessel scored 21 goals and 43 points in 26 junior games with the USA and had 15 goals and 29 points after 33 games with the senior side.
The 6-foot, 200 lb Kessel has deceptive skating speed, is an underrated playmaker and possesses a quick release on his wicked shot. He may not be the best defensive forward in the game, but excels in the offensive zone.