In 2004-2005 Phil Kessel was absolutely dominant at the Under 18 World Junior Championship. During those 2 years he amassed an incredible 26 points in just 12 games, and during that time was pegged to go number one in the 2006 NHL entry draft. However, his play tailed off during his draft year, and he saw his ranking slip. Still, this speedy talented winger had enough potential to be a big-time scorer in the NHL that he didn’t have to wait too long to hear his name called at the draft table. The Boston Bruins took Kessel with the 5th overall pick, and he made the team as a 19 year old.
Phil Kessel showed some flashes of brilliance that first year, but in December he was hospitalized with testicular cancer. He returned in January, missing just 11 games along the way. That year fans saw him finish his rookie season with just 11 goals and 29 points in 70 games played. These stats, especially considering what Kessel had gone through with his cancer scare, were considered solid rookie numbers for most. Yet some critics considered the relatively low totals a disappointment for a player who had once been compared to Sidney Crosby.
Kessel got fans excited when he scored a hat trick against the Los Angeles Kings in the 4th game of his sophomore year, but that would prove to be his offensive peak, and his second year in the NHL was only slightly better than his first, seeing him finish with just 37 points in 82 games.
Boston matched up against historical rival, Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs, and Kessels average play continued until he was benched by coach Claude Julien. Kessel sat for games 2, 3 and 4 of the series against the Canadiens, watching his team go down 3 games to 1 to the Habs.
When Kessel returned for game 5 he was a changed player, and for the remainder of the series he used his speed and skill to score 3 goals in the next 3 games. Boston wound up losing the series, bowing out in the 7th game, but those 3 games may, in hindsight, turn out to be the turning point in Kessel’s career.
This season Kessel has picked up where he left off in last year’s playoffs. Matched on a line with Marc Savard and Milan Lucic, Kessel has 17 goals and 25 points in just 27 games so far this season. His current output has him on pace to reach 50 goals, something no Bruin has accomplished since Cam Neely achieved the feat in 1994.
Whether Kessel can continue his hot play remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, Kessel has finally matured and found the game that made him such a highly touted prospect in 2005. Look for Kessel to be a dominant offensive force in the NHL from this point forward.