Kessel is hockey's best story
Of all that has gone on in the first quarter of this sometimes brilliant, sometimes worrisome Maple Leafs season, the emergence of Phil Kessel as a possible National Hockey League star is the story that trumps all that isn’t Crosby.
His rise to this level — as leading goal scorer, leading point getter in the NHL — for as long as it lasts has been completely unexpected. The tendency is to believe this cannot continue, especially considering Kessel’s history as a streak scorer, an inconsistent performer, and a sometimes less than motivated athlete.
But he’s never had a streak that was this good, this long, this focused, this dominant. He’s hasn’t shown this kind of star potential, this kind of on-ice authority, since he was compared with Sidney Crosby as a teenager.
And the two have never been close since.
But Brian Burke has seen this kind of ascendency before. He drafted Daniel and Henrik Sedin in Vancouver and had to live through five years of waiting, worrying, wondering what the Sedins would become. He had to live through all the questioning of their talents and concern they would never live up to their lofty billing. It happened in their fifth NHL season, after four seasons in Vancouver and one lockout year. They made the jump from ordinary to great.
The kind of jump Phil Kessel appears to be experiencing through the first quarter of this Leaf season.
Daniel and Henrik were 25 when they turned their careers around. Since the NHL lockout year, Daniel, for example, has scored 524 points in 492 games. Before that, it was 151 points in his first 318 games.
This is season six for Kessel as a professional. He is only 24 years old, having lived through cancer, shoulder surgery and the usual learning period kids must go through, and has never scored more than 64 points or 36 goals in a season before. Those are decent numbers, just not franchise changing, star-like numbers. But right now, one-quarter into this season, he leads all of hockey in goals and points: He has scored 16 times in 21 games, set up 13 others, is on pace — dare we make that ridiculous climb — for 62 goals, 51 assists, 113 points.