It’s no secret that I’m not a big Phil Kessel fan. I think he’s lazy. He waits for the play to come to him rather than the other way around. And he’s unbelievably predictable when it comes to shooting after he skates with the puck (as opposed to a one-timer). But maybe I’m wrong about old Phil.
On Saturday night, during the Leafs’ game v. Washington, a few folks on Twitter again began pointing out Kessel’s numerous perceived faults. Of course, I chimed in with my big mouth. But several in the Twitter universe suggested patience with Kessel is the best tack. It got me to thinking, “Just how long do we have to be patient with big Phil?”
My standard reference is that, if after three full NHL seasons, a guy hasn’t shown you what he’s got – he’s never going to. There are exceptions, of course. But that’s my general rule-of-thumb. But who are the exceptions? Does Kessel still have a chance to be a breakout superstar in this league?
Cam Neely came to mind. He played three, fewer-than-forty-points seasons in Vancouver, then GM Jack Gordon gave up on him and sent him to Boston. A Hall-of-Fame career awaited Neely. The other names brought forward on Twitter by @leafschatter were Charlie Simmer and Reggie Leach.
Reggie Leach bumped along in Boston and California for four seasons before being sent to the Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers. He helped the Flyers win a second consecutive Cup and had two 50-or-more goal seasons in Philly.
Simmer did absolutely nothing in five up-and-down seasons with the California Golden Seals, Cleveland Barons and then one year in Los Angeles. That was until he was paired with Dave Taylor and Marcel Dionne, forming what is likely the best scoring line in NHL history – The Triple Crown Line. Simmer had consecutive 56-goal and 100+-point seasons.
But, to me, the best example of a player exploding further along into his career is Phil Esposito. In three-and-a-half seasons in Chicago, Espo never scored more than 30 goals. Then he was sent to Boston. KABOOOM! Two seasons later he set an all-time record with 126 points. Then 76 goals. All this from a guy who really did nothing until he was 26 years old.
And this tells me maybe, just maybe, our patience with Phil Kessel should continue. But this is Kessel’s fifth full NHL season. He’s had one year when he’s scored as many as 60 points. He should be a 50-goal scorer, right? No sane GM would trade two first-round picks for someone who wasn’t, would they? No, they wouldn’t.
He’s 23 years old. Young. He’s in his 5th season. Old. If we agree that Kessel must wait for talented linemates to explode, that’s fine. But exactly how long are we supposed to wait before realizing that, indeed, Phil Kessel is nothing more than a 30-goal guy who’s forever going to go down as the stiff who was dealt for two firsts?