It's safe to say Wisconsin native Phil Kessel's journey with the Boston Bruins hasn't been an easy one, to say the least. Taken by the Bruins in the first round of the 2006 Draft with the fifth overall pick, Boston had high hopes for the University of Minnesota star right-winger.
A prospect with high potential and talent, Kessel was capable of being the first overall selection. However, issues with his attitude and work ethic let Kessel slide down to the fifth selection, and into black and gold.
However, the Bruins felt confident that the jump to the NHL would change the problems he had at the University of Minnesota. Kessel's rookie campaign in Boston proved to be a difficult one, both on and off the ice. On Dec. 12, the Bruins took Phil Kessel off their active roster with a 'medical issue'. The issue was treatment for testicular cancer.
In a month's time, Kessel returned to the Bruins and with a bang. He scored the game-winning shootout goal to beat the Penguins 5-4. Shootouts, after all, were the only thing the rookie shined in. Although Kessel ended the year with rather poor totals (12 goals, 17 assists and -12) the Bruins fans and management gave the then 19-year-old a pass.
In 2007, it seemed Kessel was much the same player that struggled the previous year.
On Oct. 25, 2007, Kessel pulled a terrific toe-drag move past a Chicago defensemen and scored past Khabibulin. For the next 73 games, it's all we saw from the winger. It appeared every time he went up ice, he was trying to same toe-drag and it simply wasn't working. He scored just 14 times after Oct. 25.
Then in the playoffs, it appeared Claude Julien had had enough of the unsuccessful and repetitive deke. Kessel received a benching for Games Two, Three and Four, something Julien did to Alexei Kovalev during his tenure as coach in Montreal to wake him up.
The benching worked, and in Game Five Kessel scored a goal and played defense for the first time in a Bruins uniform in the Bruins 5-1 rout of the Habs.
Then came Game Six game—thee game.
In the first period, Savard fell down near the center ice dot when Kessel took over. He went up ice, did the same move we all saw all season long and it worked. He put it right through Francis Bouillon's legs' and wristed it by Price to score.
As the Garden erupted, so did Kessel. He scored yet another goal in the third period in what many consider,the official rebirth of hockey in Boston.
As the 2008 season began, Kessel wasted no time resuming his work, scoring six goals in the Bruins first six games of the season. It appeared he was becoming the real Phil Kessel. Kessel went cold, got hot and then got cold again. During his second cool-down, Bruins fans noticed a fatigue in Kessel's step and skating. He look exhausted and often winded after his shifts.
Then on Jan. 10, Kessel was placed on injured reserve with mono. Who he was kissing has yet to been discovered as the search continues for the culprit, but one thing was for the sure: the Bruins were without their sniper. The overall play of the team didn't appear to suffer greatly as the Bruins went 4-1-1 with Kessel out, but they were more than happy to get him back.
However, things haven't been great since his return.
Kessel hasn't hit his stride yet. Call it rust, call it a cold streak—though it's more like an ice streak—Kessel is goal-less in his last 12 games, sporting a disappointing -3 in those games.
It appears the Bruins' fans worst fears came true as Kessel has reverted to doing the toe-drag again and again unsuccessfully. Don't count on another benching due to the injuries, but as the Bruins continue to slide and continue to struggle to put pucks past the goalie, all eyes will be focusing on the potential offensive juggernaut that is Phil Kessel, waiting for him to awake.