Phil Kessel scored his 400th career point in a two-goal effort leading the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders. It was a small footnote for a player who has been largely surrounded by criticism throughout his career.
When Kessel first arrived in Toronto, many questioned if paying two first-round draft picks and a second rounder to acquire him was worth the talented sniper. Many knew he had an elite skill-level yet they still weren’t sure if he’d ever develop into the player he was projected to be. Now after scoring his 400th career point in his eighth season and at only 26-years-old the question is no longer will Kessel become a good player, but it has become just how good of a player can he be?
Not too long ago Maple Leaf fans were still upset over the price they paid to acquire Kessel. Trading away first-round picks that turned into Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton was a steep price to pay, but nobody in Toronto is regretting the trade now. In fact, many Maple Leaf fans would likely make the trade again today even knowing the picks would become Seguin and Hamilton. The tone in the city has changed from, “we overpaid to get him” to “you have to give something to get something.”
What the Maple Leafs got might even be surpassing their own expectations as Kessel has proven he can now play at both ends of the ice. When he was first acquired, Kessel was known as an offensive-only forward, someone who will score 30-goals but would hardly be depended to provide support in his own zone. In his first few seasons in Toronto, Kessel was that type of player before a strong commitment to the defensive side of the game turned him into a quality two-way player. He’s learned to use his speed to not only break away from the opposition but to also catch-up to them on the back-check. Critics used to blast Kessel for his lack of a defensive game, but now they praise the player he’s developed into.
For a player known as an elite goal-scorer, armed with some of the best hands in the game, it’s important to note Kessel actually has more assists than goals. Approaching the 200-goal plateau, Kessel currently sits with 197 career-goals along with 203 career-assists. As impressive as his goal-scoring ability is, his passing ability is constantly underrated. In the past two seasons Kessel has combined to finish with 20 more assists than goals. Perhaps it’s time to change his reputation as a sniper to a playmaker.
When the Maple Leafs first acquired Kessel, fans feared they were acquiring a one-trick pony that could only put the puck in the net. As he’s recorded his 400th career point, fans now understand they acquired a superstar that’s blossomed into one of the game’s most complete players.
Which is exactly why last spring fans in Toronto were chanting, “thank you Seguin.”