Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel is constantly dealing with massive pressure and high expectations from fans and the media, but it doesn't stop him from playing at a high level.
As Randy Carlyle enters his first full season as head coach of the Leafs, what can we expect from Kessel at both ends of the ice in the event that there is a full 2012-13 NHL season?
Before we project what Kessel's stats will be during the 2012-13 season and the impact he will make offensively this year, let's take a quick look at his stats from his first three seasons with the Leafs.
Carlyle's defensive style of hockey and desire to play the game with a high level of toughness and physicality will likely have an effect on Kessel.
If Carlyle asks him to make more of an effort to impact the game in all three zones, Kessel might see his point total drop a bit from last season.
However, Kessel is capable of playing with more grit while still making a profound impact offensively. The entire team needs to be better defensively next year, and that includes the top-six forward group.
Carlyle also used a defensive system when he was the head coach of the Anaheim Ducks, but that didn't prevent forwards such as Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan from scoring 30-plus goals consistently.
Kessel isn't a power forward like Perry and Ryan, but as a pure goal scorer, he's just as capable of scoring 35-45 goals in Carlyle's system.
On a Leafs team that has endured several injuries to key players over the last few years, Kessel has proven to be a durable, and reliable part of the team. If he plays all 82 games for the third straight year, it would be a shock if he doesn't score 40-plus goals.
The continued improvement of first-line teammate Joffrey Lupul should also give Kessel plenty of opportunities to rack up a ton of assists. Playmaking is an underrated part of his game, and if Lupul can stay healthy for an entire season, Kessel's chances of hitting the 90-point mark will improve.
The team around him is getting better, and there's still a chance that Kessel could play alongside a true No. 1 center if general manager Brian Burke adds one to the roster before the trade deadline, or James van Riemsdyk makes a switch from the wing.
Kessel is set for a career year and will give Leafs fans plenty of reasons to cheer throughout the 2012-13 season.
Stat Predictions for 2012-13: 82 games played, 43 goals, 47 assists
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