The Phil Factor: Kessel Proving He's Worth More Than Leafs Imagined

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst IDecember 4, 2009

TORONTO - NOVEMBER 21: Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates shoot-out goal against the Washington Capitals during game action November 21, 2009 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

So many questions, so little time.

Much has been said since the Toronto Maple Leafs traded two first-round picks and a second-round pick for American sniper, Phil Kessel. Everyone chimed in with their opinion of whether or not he was worth that much, or if it was just another bad decision by a Leafs GM.

Well, he has played 15 games with the team now, and it's becoming increasingly apparent that anymore questions need not be asked.

Kessel is proving he is worth far more than the team could have even imagined, and his impact so far may surprise you.

He sat out the team's first 12 games, and they went a disastrous 1-7-4 without him, sitting dead-last in the NHL with only 15 even-strength goals in that time. The season looked grim right from the start, and many were starting to believe that even with Kessel inserted into the lineup, the Leafs had fallen too far out of the race.

But as soon as Kessel arrived on the scene, the team has not only played better, but they've been steadily fighting their way back into the pack, a mere six points out of a playoff spot as of Friday.

He has 10 goals and 15 points after 15 games and is showing no signs of slowing down. Kessel registered his third multi-goal game Thursday night in Columbus and is showing that he can score from anywhere on the ice.

With Kessel the Leafs have a record of 7-5-3 and improved their five-on-five play, scoring 37 even-strength goals, a major improvement compared to the first month of the season.

It is no shock that Kessel has come in and played well for a team that was in desperate need of some offensive help, but there were few who thought his great play would not only boost the play of those around him, but propel the Leafs back up the standings into contention.

The questions will always remain whether Brian Burke should have given up three draft picks for Kessel, but 15 games into the season he is proving to be worth every one of those picks.

Heck, who knows how those picks will pan out; Leafs could have pulled off a steal by the time this thing is all said and done.

Unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

Things are fine and dandy in Leaf land right now, even though it was just announced that rookie goaltender, Jonas Gustavsson will have to go in for his second heart procedure in less than three months, but with the offense finally clicking, it may be a situation the team can deal with for the time being.

Saturday night in Boston, Kessel will return to the place he left this summer, and the reception will be less than a welcoming one for sure. After scoring 36 goals through 70 games last season he departed with mixed feelings from his former team, reportedly with a poor relationship with more than one person on the club.

Nevertheless, the game should be a doozy, and you know Kessel will be all fired up for his return to the place his NHL career began.

The fans will no doubt boo him till the lights go out, but with Kessel playing at the top of his game and the Leafs closing in on the Bruins in the standings, those fans just might be wishing he never left.

In the back of their minds, at least.

Bostonians have been laughing at Torontonians since the trade happened, but a strong performance by the former Bruin might just turn the tables, and Leaf fans will finally be able to ask a question of a different nature.

Who's laughing now?


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