Kessel will have to Reach a New Level

Bleacher ReportContributor IMay 6, 2010

MONTREAL- APRIL 10:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs chases the puck during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens on April 10, 2010 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Maple Leafs defeated the Canadiens 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

Though Phil Kessel has wowed Leafs fans over the past six months, I believe he’s still only brushed the surface of his potential. And I don’t think it’s unfair for me (or you) to expect more of him in the future.

That’s not a knock on his performance or skill level. If anything, it’s a testament to both.

Despite his greatness with the Bruins in 2008-09, where he racked up 36 goals, Kessel simply looked better as a Leaf. He thrived as the primary weapon in his limited time with the Buds this past season, and his pace escalated as the season wore on and he found his rhythm.

The reason for this being partly that No. 81 was rushed into the lineup to aid a Leafs roster that wasn’t even competitive early on in the season. At first he looked gassed after every trip down the ice, but still managed put up decent numbers despite clearly being out of game shape.

A shoulder surgery that Kessel required last year sidelined him for the first month of the Leafs schedule, and he was pushed to step in as quick as possible when Toronto came out of the gate totally flat. He delivered, but couldn’t keep it up for long, especially with the Leafs lineup transforming from game to game.

Kessel grabbed some goals early on, and then a few scoring slumps followed, but he kept getting chances regardless so there was little panic. It sounds cliche, but it’s true; if he wasn’t getting chances, then you can worry.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

After the mid-season woes that no Leaf should be proud of, Kessel found his touch again toward the latter part of the season and went on a blazing pace to end out the year, finishing with another 30 goal campaign. Leafs fans everywhere breathed an enormous sigh of relief.

I still think he can be better.

From watching the Maple Leafs, and the other 29 teams from around the league, it’s easy to see that Kessel has an unteachable scoring ability and elite offensive talent. His movement and shooting skills are really something to behold, and the knack he has for finding twine is almost bizarre.

Some players just seem like their shots have eyes for the back of the net. It’s unexplainable, so I won’t make a fool of myself trying to explain it. It’s what separates that pure sniper from a regular goal scorer.

Phil Kessel is a pure sniper. Which is why I think he can be a fifty goal guy. And I think we should expect it of him.

I don’t think fans should run him out of town if he doesn’t, but I think he’s really a special talent and is definitely capable of it.

Will he do it? I believe so. Phil Kessel will have more than one fifty goal season as a Leaf. And I wouldn’t even classify that as a bold prediction by any means.

Toronto can only improve in the next year or two, and Kessel will as well. When you’re at the bottom, there’s really nowhere to go but up for the Leafs.

At 22 years old, Kessel has only really just begun his hockey career.

With his job description being strictly to fill the net, his goal totals should improve as he becomes an NHL veteran with better players around him.

Crosby and Stamkos both broke out (goal-wise) this season to crack the fifty plateau. I suspect Kessel will do the same in the not too distant future.

Email maplestirup@gmail.com