Can Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel Turn Around the Negative Perception?

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2012

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 13: Phil Kessel #81 celebrates the goal by Tyler Bozak #42 (not pictured) of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period against the Florida Panthers on March 13, 2012 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Phil Kessel is a dynamic offensive player who will almost certainly lead the Toronto Maple Leafs in goal scoring when (if) the NHL starts playing hockey again.

Kessel has the ability to accelerate through the defense, get to a spot between the circles and fire off one of the best wrist shots in the NHL. He has scored 30 goals or better in each of the last four seasons, three of which have come in a Toronto uniform.

But while Kessel has the ability to score goals and he has turned his vast potential into production, all that gold does not always glitter.

Kessel is not exactly a stalwart when it comes to all-around play. He doesn't appear to have the conditioning of his ex-Boston teammate Zdeno Chara, and he has not always been enamored with playing hard on the defensive end.

Kessel's effort and all-around play became an issue during his time in Boston with Bruins head coach Claude Julien. While Kessel scored 36 goals in the 2008-09 season and finished with 60 points and a plus-23 rating, Julien was not particularly thrilled with Kessel's defensive play.

Julien brought the subject up with his star goal scorer and Kessel did not take kindly to his coach's words. He chafed under the collar.

It was clear the two did not have the best of relationships and he was traded to the Maple Leafs prior to the 2009-10 season for two first-round draft picks and a second-round pick. The two first-round picks turned out to be Tyler Seguin and highly touted Dougie Hamilton. The second-round pick was Jared Knight.

Kessel has been an all-star and an impressive scorer with the Leafs. However, his coverage in the defensive zone has not been stellar.

Former Toronto head coach Ron Wilson brought it up from time to time. Kessel's enthusiasm on the defensive end was not quite the same as it was when he was on the attack and moving into the offensive zone (source:

Kessel needed to be reminded of this from time to time and it impacted his relationship with Wilson.

Kessel is an excellent scorer and a productive player who should put 30 or more goals on the board in most seasons. But he does not play defense with the same fervor as when he is moving into the offensive zone and he is looking for his shot.

That's a fact and that's not likely to change any time soon.

Does that mean he's not a good or important player?

Not at all. But he may never have the complete game that Julien and Wilson wanted and that's just something that the Leafs and their long-suffering fans are going to have to accept.