2011 NHL All-Star Game: Why This Weekend Was Made for Phil Kessel

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst IJanuary 27, 2011

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 06:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Buffalo Sabres at the Air Canada Centre on November 6, 2010 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Phil Kessel is going to win the MVP at the 2011 NHL All-Star Game this weekend. 

This is not a statement coming from the Kessel-crazed Maple Leaf fan, or the follower of said team who desperately needs something to cheer about this season.

It was not suggested by his parents, though I'm sure they're rooting for him in Carolina as any proud mother and father would. 

No, this is a statement uttered because plain and simple, the NHL All-Star Game was made for players like Phil Kessel. His mind may explode this weekend. 

And for those who laugh and call for the Leafs sniper to be chosen last in Friday's draft, may want to rethink your argument. It's players like Kessel that prove to be the most impressive in the NHL's premiere showcase of talent. 

It's like a caged animal being released into the wild for the first time. Freedom.

Playing on the Leafs is not the perfect scenario for Kessel. Not even close. 

In a perfect world he touches the puck very little. In a perfect world his job is to move around and get open, receive a crisp pass, and unleash a rocket into the back of the net. 

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In a perfect world, he only uses his speed on odd-man rushes and perfectly setup breakaways. Not carrying the puck in over the line by himself. Not hustling back on defense in an attempt to back-check. 

Kessel's speed kills, but only when it's used right, or, um, when he feels like it.

His picture-perfect hockey game doesn't have him wearing the blue and white Maple Leaf, asked to play hard at both ends of the ice.

It's him on a line with two of the NHL's best players, fully capable of feeding him a perfect pass, while he waits patiently in an open spot, finger on the trigger. 

The All-Star Game is made for Phil Kessel. Seriously, they may have had him in mind all those years ago when they came up with the idea.

A match made in heaven. Like peanut butter and jelly. Waffles and maple syrup.

He'll play on a line with star players, guys like Brad Richards or Jonathan Toews who are willing to do all the work and find him in the clear, while he stands and surveys the crowd.

Locked and loaded.

There's no contact, no checking, and no need to battle it out in the corners. 

There's no chance of ever having to back-check, and even less of a chance of getting an ear full for lack of effort upon returning to the bench. Hustle isn't a word often used in this game.

The only effort he'll ever have to exude is when there's a scoring chance. For him.


Word on the street is that he had to cancel vacation plans to attend this weekend's festivities, but sitting on the beach and relaxing is essentially how you would describe the All-Star Game intensity level.

More lemonade, sir?

Kessel is going to absolutely love his first All-Star Game. So much so, that he's almost guaranteed to win the MVP and the brand-spankin' new car that comes with it.

It's not a prediction, it's just a fact of life. Ask Alex Kovalev in 2009. 

Kovalev gives more effort on his drive to the rink everyday than he does on the ice, and yet the All-Star Game in Montreal, full of all-skill and no effort hockey, he looked Gretzky-esque. He took control of the game.

Just like Kessel will. 

This isn't meant to rip on Kessel's effort level with the Leafs. Nor to mock the talent level of the players he plays with. This is both. Or neither. 

The fact is, the stage is set for him to have a fantastic game because it's the exact environment he's made to excel in. 

But when he gets back to Toronto, Leafs fans, with car keys and MVP in hand, don't get too excited for a record-setting second half from the 23-year-old. He'll be back to the same old Phil. 

Longing for the days of All-Star Game freedom.

But you can bet he'll be booking his tickets to next year's All-Star Game well in advance, instead of setting his sights on a all inclusive resort.  

The most fun Phil Kessel will have all season is this weekend in Raleigh. 

Follow me on Twitter: @therealjonneely


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