Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs has consistently lead his team with one of, if not the highest points and goal totals since his tenure with the Leafs began. With this information alone you would be hard pressed to understand why then in a fan base so passionate about winning, many remain apprehensive in their support of this 26 year old goal scorer.
From the very outset of his time with the Leafs, fans have lamented the loss of the top draft picks used to acquire this talented young winger. The main piece that fans were upset about missing out on was local blue chip prospect Tyler Seguin (Seguin has since been moved to the Dallas Stars). I however believe there is more at work here than a bitter fan base with a long memory. If you have ever watched even a single Maple Leafs game in the past 3 years you will have undoubtably heard the oft mentioned media criticisms of this "Pure Goal Scorer." Phil Kessel has consistently been called out as a man whose way with words falls drastically short of his way with the puck. And because of this the Toronto media has maligned him as far less than a personable guy. In a hockey market that puts the microscope to every word uttered by someone wearing a blue sweater it's easy to see how this can lead to a person being cast in an unflattering light. This is all in spite of the fact that these criticisms of Phil's character are always met with ardent disagreement from his teammates. I think in a hockey world where most questions are met with a slew of cliches I've learned to smell the baloney enough to say I'll take his teammates word for it.
As a fan of the team and someone who likes to always give credit where it is due the dogma on Phil Kessel frustrates me to no end. It seems like even when a commentator or writer deems fit to mention his accomplishments they still manage to slip in a few subtle shots. Ask yourself this, how many times can you recall someone talking about the chemistry between Phil and (insert player here). Whenever Phil seems to just be finding the back of the net the talk always becomes about his chemistry with one of his line mates. I have heard endless talk about the chemistry between Kessel and Bozak, Kessel and Kadri, Kessel and Van Riemsdyk, Kessel and Lupul. At what point do we stop and say... hey maybe this guy is just good.
Another criticism of Kessel has been that he is a fairly one dimensional player. This view is completely understandable... if you have not seen him play in a few years. In the past couple years Kessel has shown some remarkable defensive zone improvements while also establishing himself as a very effective playmaker. Not to mention the team first attitude he put on display after allowing new teammate Mason Raymond, to post an empty net goal he could have easily claimed for himself. You could almost say he pulled a reverse Jason Blake, who I'm sure we can all agree was also quite maligned during his time in Toronto but for good reason. Fellow Leafs fans I know your lost/wasted draft pick pain, but I caution you to not let it cloud your view of a young player who has not just proven to be a consistent 30 goal scorer, but one who has continued to show growth on the ice. Do not make the mistake of assuming that Kessel's "Chemistry" with Bozak means that Toronto has found its top line playmaker. I still believe that a top line centre who can hold onto the position by more than default can push Kessel well beyond the 40 goal mark. To those of you who scoff at that notion you do Tyler Bozak too much honour. Kessel has posted all of his 30 goal seasons somewhat singlehandedly. If you can't believe that someone who can score 30 on his own cannot also score 40 plus with a Mats Sundin or a Joe Thornton type player up the middle, then you have been drinking the Toronto media Kool-Aid for far too long.