Is Phil Kessel Ready To Make The Jump To Elite Status?

September 7th, 2010 9 Comments

When it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs scoring, many believe it begins and ends with Phil Kessel.

For the most part the observers are correct—Kessel is the Leafs main goal-scoring threat.

That said, given general manager Brian Burke’s recent acquisitions (Kris Versteeg, Colby Armstrong, Clarke MacArthur, Luca Caputi) and with the all but certain addition of talented scorer Nazem Kadri to the mix, the Leafs look to have a much deeper offensive lineup heading into the 2010-11 season.

In 2009-10 Kessel accounted for a total of 30 goals and 55 points—good enough to equate to a total of 14.3 percent of Toronto’s goals, which ranked him 13th overall with Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning finishing first with 51 goals or 23.9 percent of Tampa’s goals.

Overall, having played a total of just 70 games of the 82-game season, Kessel’s 30 goals placed him 21st amongst all NHL goal-scorer’s. While finishing 21st overall in goal-scoring is nothing to sneeze at, it’s a long way off what many would call elite goal-scoring status, which comes in the form of 35 or more goals.

Only 11 skaters hit the 35 goal-mark in 2009-10 and, with the exception of two (Bobby Ryan—64 and Alexandre Burrows—67) all of them finished with 80 points or more.

Clearly, given the fact that Kessel played just 70 games last season, looks to have an improved cast of line mates over last season, will have some familiarity with sophomore Tyler Bozak expected back and a much deeper team overall to play for, 35 goals looks to be a realistic benchmark for Kessel in 2010-11.

If Kessel can stay healthy, use his teammates effectively and continue to develop his goal-scoring instincts he has a legitimate chance to not only hit that magical 35-goal mark (he scored 36 in 2008-09 with Boston), he should also have an outside chance of hitting the 80-point plateau—which would be a 20 point improvement on his career high of 60 points, also in 2008-09.

As much as Kessel’s five-on-five play will be important to his success, Kessel’s biggest improvement will likely have to come on the power play where he scored a total of eight goals (62nd overall) and put up a total of 16 points— good enough for 110th overall.

In order for Kessel to improve his numbers on the power play he will have to play more of a team concept, using his teammates to his advantage, not just looking to shoot the puck.

Simply put, the only way for Kessel—a sniper by nature—to be thought of as an elite player he must learn to use the entire ice, involve his teammates more often and take advantage of his power play opportunities.

For a player that was noticeably out of shape for most of the 2009-10 season, it’s a tall order to expect him to achieve elite status, one that will require a huge effort on Kessel’s part, both mentally and physically.

That said, when Brian Burke made the highly contested trade for Kessel with the Boston Bruins (sending two first round draft pick’s and a second round pick to Boston), this is exactly what Burke envisioned Kessel becoming—an elite player.

At 22-years old, there is still plenty of time for Kessel to get to that elite level. With a little luck and determination he will do it this season.

Until next time,



  1. swelldogk says:

    i hope he followed kadri’s steps, by spending his summer getting in shape!!!! maybe someone should introduce him to chellios

  2. geoff says:

    Vanek put up similar numbers in the same amount of games and is considered a bust.

  3. Justin says:

    Vanek is a bust because of what he did before and his 7+ million per year salary (thanks Lowe). Kessel is 22 and scored 30 playing with a rotation of rookies. He is far from a bust

  4. Brett says:

    Some good points made, but I would have to disagree with 35 goals being the benchmark for ‘elite’ status. That somewhat dilutes the group. I would say once you score 50( or consistent seasons scoring 40-45 or more) you can be called an elite goal scorer. Then you’re looking at a current group of players like Ovechkin, Crosby, Heatley, Stamkos, Gaborik (when healthy). Those guys are elite, and to suggest players that top 35 goals twice become elite goal scorers is a little far-fetched.

  5. MarkRitter says:

    I see where you are coming from and I do agree, 35 goals does not really make you an elite player—there has to be more to your game than just goal scoring.

    That said, as I outlined in the article, a total of 11 players hit the 35-goal mark last season. With around 700 players currently in the NHL, I think if you accomplish something that only 11 players did, you are elite—at least in that discipline.

    Again, I think in order for Kessel to be considered elite he has to hit 35/45—80 points, or 40/40—80 points, that kind of thing.

    35 goals, 80 points, puts you in some very elite company these days, that’s all I was trying to point out.

    Thanks for the comment!

  6. MarkRitter says:

    He will show up in better shape this season, if not Phaneuf will kick his butt!

  7. geoff says:

    That actually helps my point. Vanek has scored 43 goal so is held to a higher standard. Kessel would only have to score 35 to be considered elite and has a good season with 30. Vanek is a bust when scoring 28. As far as salary, Kessel costs 5.4 million, not quite a bargain for 30 goals.

  8. Bob says:

    This guy is so overrated. I just cannot see him suddenly becoming an honest two way hockey player. He is what he is: a decent scorer who won’t back check.

  9. geoff says:

    I have to agree with Bob. Phil has an quick wristshot, but is predictable. He doesn’t play both ends of the ice. He is not a balanced offensive forward who looks for the open man. When MarkRitter stated that he needs to get 40 to 45 assists (on top of improving on the number of goals), he didn’t take into account that Kessel doesn’t set up his teammates as much as looks for the shot (The only time he earned more assists than goals was his rookie season).

    Using the arguement that he had nobody to pass to on last years Leafs team fails to take into account that he had more assists the previous season on a much better Bruins team.

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