At least there’s one thing not making Leafs’ GM Brian Burke lose sleep these days: The play of Phil Kessel.
Predictably, the Leafs have come down a notch after a hot start to reveal several weaknesses — goalies not named Reimer, a leaky defence, a last-place PK and a Mikhail Grabovski line that continues to sputter to name a few.
But Kessel, along with the rising scoring prowess of Joffrey Lupul, continue to hum along, thanks very much. Nearly six weeks into the season, Kessel remains atop the NHL scoring race with 12G, and 24 points in 17 games. When was the last time a Maple Leaf led the league in scoring even for this long? Kessel’s been on top from Day 1 and continues to score apace without going into one of his offensive funks that’s typified his time as a Maple Leaf.
Sure he had that 4-game goal-less patch earlier this month but continued to add assists — something to take note of. He has as many assists (12) as goals, indicating he’s as much a play-maker as a sniper. This is encouraging. Most think of Kessel as a pure scorer, especially when on a hot streak. But the numbers tell a different story: In the 2009-10 season, his first as a Leaf, Kessel had 30 goals and 25 assists in 70 games. Last year, his goals-assists ratio was dead even at 32 goals and 32 assists. Put simply, he’s evolving into a more balanced offensive player. He’s also gone from a minus–20 last season to a plus-9, adding some defensive responsibility to his game.
The season has yet to reach the quarter point mark but indications are that Kessel, at 24, is rounding into the kind of player Brian Burke hoped he was getting when he gave up two first-rounders and a second round pick for him. He’s still an enigma. Will he default to his old ways, taking upteen bad angle shots from the wing or continue to go to the busy areas as he’s done this season? Who knows. But if Kessel stays healthy and avoids going stone cold, all the noise over “the trade” may finally be put to rest.