Roughly a month ago it looked as if the Pittsburgh Penguins were on the verge of missing the postseason, as the team was falling in the standings and had just lost Evgeni Malkin for the rest of the regular season to an arm injury. However, right when he was needed most, Phil Kessel stepped up to not only help the future of his current team but his former team as well.
With Pittsburgh officially clinching a playoff berth this past weekend, the conditional draft choice the Penguins sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the trade for Kessel now becomes a first-round pick. Had Pittsburgh missed the postseason, the draft compensation would have been a second-round pick instead.
Kessel had an awful exit from Toronto, as the blame for a terrible season was mostly placed on his shoulders resulting in a summer trade sending him to the Penguins. At the time of the deal, the Maple Leafs couldn’t get fair value in a trade for Kessel’s game-changing abilities and took whatever they could which explains why Pittsburgh’s first-round pick depended on a playoff berth. Kessel’s elite talent struggled initially in Pittsburgh, but after the Malkin injury he’s started to light up the box score by recording 17 points in his past 16 games.
Although the first-round pick will be a late selection in the opening round, it still provides the Maple Leafs with a second first-rounder on top of their own draft pick which has the potential to be No. 1 overall given the team’s terrible record. This now provides the club with additional options to help their rebuild on draft night as they could potentially package the later pick to move into the middle of the first round or perhaps even trade down for additional picks.
Regardless of what the Maple Leafs do on draft night, they have Kessel to thank for the extra options as both parties continue to put the nightmare of last season behind them. Kessel appears to be finally fitting in and getting comfortable in Pittsburgh, while Toronto continues to collect assets and rebuild a franchise that has hit rock bottom.
Although Kessel couldn’t help the Maple Leafs on the ice, perhaps the extra asset he just provided his former club results in a significant building block for Toronto’s future.