FanPost

Phil Kessel's road to the NHL: Cancer? No Problem.

Profiles - Phil Kessel.

Hometown: Madison
Size: 6'0/200 lbs.
Position: RW
Fun Fact: Kessel loves to golf


Assets: Electric releaser, explosive skater, superb playmaker, premier sniper, excellent powerplay specialist, superb hands, improving in defensive zone, clutch.


Flaws: Often shies away from the puck in the corners, is still streaky and can fall into slumps for multiple games.


Speedy. Electric. Dynamic. Super skilled. These are all perfect adjectives to describe Phil Kessel, the 25 year old winger from Madison, Wisconsin. Drafted 5th overall by the Boston Bruins in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Kessel was a highly touted prospect coming out of the WCHA. From his very early youth, Kessel was considered a star. He scored 176 goals in 86 games at the AAA Bantam level, 113 goals in 71 games at the Midget AAA level and was accepted into the U17 Development Program in the NAHL. He posted record goal scoring numbers two years in a row (52 goals), and found himself rated as a potential first overall pick going into his draft year. However, Kessel began to, finally, experience some setbacks. He was a member of the US World Junior hockey team, and despite having a strong tournament, scoring a goal and 10 assists to lead all players, his prospect ranking dipped. He scored at more than a point-per-game pace in the WCHA, and yet scouts focused on the fact that he was playing limited minutes which dipped his ranking again. By draft day, Kessel was rated as the fifth best North American skater, behind Erik Johnson, Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews and Derick Brassard. At fifth overall, the Bruins decided to take what was viewed as a "chance" on the speedy American winger, and Kessel was expected to start the season in the NHL with Boston after signing a three year contract worth the rookie maximum.

It seemed that Kessel had overcome the several, very minor, setbacks he had experienced and was now ready to take the NHL by storm, and begin lighting up the lamp. However, his start in the NHL was almost catastrophically delayed. On December 11, 2006, Kessel was sent to the hospital and diagnosed with a form of testicular cancer. It was a shock to the NHL world, to the Bruins and to Kessel, who had just seen one of the most touted NHL prospects become hospitalized with a relatively severe illness. 5 days after a surgery that required the removal of his right testicle, Kessel was announced cancer-free. After one month of recuperation, Kessel was ready to resume his career, assigned to the Providence Bruins of the AHL for a conditioning stint. After only 2 games, Kessel was sent up to the NHL to play with the Bruins.

After two seasons with the Bruins, Kessel's offensive game was steadily improving, before breaking out in the 2008-09 regular season, at 21 years of age, scoring 36 goals and 60 points, as well as 11 points in 11 playoff games. Kessel had obviously just began to reach his potential, but with several key restricted free agents with expired contracts such as Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Kessel himself, it was clear that someone had to be traded. Following two months of back-and-foth negotiating with Phil, and a very tight cap situation in Boston, the prospects of Kessel wearing a Bruin sweater were not looking good. He was playing hardball with the Bruins' management, trying to maximize his value on a long term deal. The Bruins realized that they could not keep the sniping winger, and decided to shop him around. Their original plan was to trade him to the Nashville Predators, acquiring a top-pairing defenseman and several picks; however, Kessel vetoed the trade.

On September 18, 2009, Kessel was finally traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in (what shouldn't be) one of the more infamous deals of the modern NHL era. The Leafs traded away to very high first round picks which acquired Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton, a move that is still, unjustifiably, maligned to this day. Kessel then signed a 5 year deal with the Maple Leafs at 5.4M dollars per year, and was ready to don the blue and white sweater and prove the critics wrong.

Since 2009, Phil Kessel has improved every aspect of his game. His goal scoring ability is at a world-class level, with a shot that is not contested by many NHLers. His premier playmaking skills have come to the surface in the past two years, proving that he is not a one-dimensional winger. He has become a leader on the ice, scoring ridiculous numbers in the last 20 games of the 2012-13 season, to bring the Leafs to the playoffs for the first time in nine years. Also, his defensive play has improved by leaps and bounds, dedicating himself to backchecking, providing more support along the wall, and shoring up his positional deficiencies.

Kessel has become a fan favourite in Toronto, for many, but not all. He is quiet, an introvert. And perhaps that is a quality that some Leaf fans dislike. But one thing is certain, they all recognize Kessel as the best player to don the Leafs sweater in a long time. Since Mats Sundin's departure, the Leafs had been desperately longing for another star. Someone to represent the Maple Leafs on the ice. The hope in Toronto is that Phil Kessel will remain the Leafs' superstar, for a very long time.


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