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Toronto Maple Leafs: Is Phil Kessel Overrated or Underrated?

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 13:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs walks off the ice following warm ups to the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on January 13, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Bleacher ReportAnalyst IJanuary 18, 2011

Since coming to Toronto, Phil Kessel has not been the 40-plus goal scoring, point-per-game player that most Maple Leafs fans thought he would be. But he is close to becoming one.

When most people look at Kessel's career accomplishments, they see one thing: success in Boston. When he played for the Bruins in 2008-2009, Kessel scored 36 goals in 70 games alongside playmaking centre Marc Savard.

There is no doubt Kessel will be able to reach the 40-goal plateau that is still expected of him this season if Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke can manage to work his magic and bring a top-six playmaker to Toronto.

It wouldn't be hard to argue that everyone is expecting way too much from Kessel. Playing on a young and inexperienced Maple Leafs team that sits well out of a playoff spot, the Madison, Wisconsin native isn't in what you would call an ideal situation.

But on the other hand, most Maple Leafs fans are not realizing how well has has actually been playing.

This season, the 23-year-old has 19 goals and 12 assists in 44 games, putting him on pace for 35 goals and 22 assists. Keep in mind, those impressive statistics are being produced without a real playmaker. Also, Kessel has been spending much of his recent games playing second-line minutes, behind the surprisingly explosive trio of Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur.

His current linemates, sophomore Tyler Bozak and recent minor league call-up Joey Crabb, certainly don't have the same skill set as Savard, a three-time 88-plus point scorer. But let's stop talking about Savard, as it seems like he is the only one people think will help Kessel become a 40-goal scorer.

What about their future? Nazem Kadri, who isn't supposed to be a playmaker, could help; he and Kessel have played well together at times.

It doesn't matter whether Burke can acquire a top-six play making forward, or if a minor league call-up will help get the best out of him; Kessel is key to any hopes the Maple Leafs have of making the playoffs in 2011, no matter what.


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lukas.hardonk@gmail.com

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