Toronto Maple Leafs: Phil Kessel Proving to be A World-Class Player

By Michael Roberts
Phil Kessel
Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off their Western Canada road trip with a 4-0 victory over the Edmonton Oilers thanks to another outstanding performance from Phil Kessel.

In his first game since being named the NHL’s second star of the week after leading the league with five goals from Oct. 21-27, Kessel continued his hot streak for the Maple Leafs, recording two goals and two assists.

After going pointless and being a -2 in consecutive games, Kessel has exploded for 10 points and a +7 rating in his past four contests. The offensive outburst now has him tied with Steven Stamkos for second in league scoring with 18 points, just two points behind league leader Sidney Crosby.

Toronto is in first place in the Eastern Conference with a 9-4 record, and a major reason why has been Kessel’s offensive production through the first month of the season. The American sniper has only failed to record a point in three games this year, and it isn’t a coincidence the Maple Leafs have lost all three of those contests.

Kessel has a reputation of being a streaky goal-scorer. When he enters a slump and fails to score in multiple games, he tends to breakout of the slump by exploding with the type of offensive streak he’s currently on.

When the winger is on fire like he has been in the past four games, the Maple Leafs are as dangerous as any team in the league. Kessel’s talents put him in the world-class player discussion, joining the likes of Crosby, Stamkos and Alexander Ovechkin. Given that Kessel has finished in the top-10 in scoring over the past two seasons and is already above a point-per-game pace, it’s hard to argue he doesn’t belong in the same class as Crosby or Ovechkin.

His wrist shot certainly belongs with the best in the game, especially after the second goal he scored against the Oilers. Kessel’s entire body, with the exception of maybe a toe, was behind the goal line, but the sniper was able to pull the puck from his backhand to his forehand and roofed it top-shelf with maybe two inches of space to place it there. The speed and accuracy to place the puck where Kessel put it is no doubt possessed by maybe only three other players in the world.

Perhaps it’s too early to crown Kessel as one of the world’s elite players; however, given his start to the season, it’s hard not to. World-class players don’t only make themselves look good, they make others around them better as well. Kessel has done just that after forming an incredible chemistry with James van Riemsdyk since the two were paired on the same line last season.

Playing alongside Kessel, van Riemsdyk has had the best start to a season in his career, recording 12 points in 11 games. The 6-foot-3 winger has already nearly recorded a one-third of his single-season career points total, which was 40 points in 75 games during the 2010-11 season.

Given the chemistry the two American wingers have developed, van Riemsdyk has a great chance to deliver a career year for the Maple Leafs in 2013-14. He’ll have Kessel to thank for that if he’s able to achieve it.

It still might be a little early to attach the “world-class” title next to Kessel. However, just like Crosby and Ovechkin, the Maple Leafs are going to go as far as Kessel can take them. So far this season, he’s led them to the top of the Eastern Conference.

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