When the Arizona Coyotes acquired Phil Kessel from the Pittsburgh Penguins in June of 2019 there were high hopes he could spark the meagre offence on the team. That didn’t happen, as he only tallied 14 goals and 24 assists in 70 games.
Something was wrong. Or was it that he didn’t have as talented players around him as he did in Pittsburgh? As it turned out, he had a severe groin injury that hampered him. It didn’t help that he was trying to extend his ironman consecutive games played streak.
Phil the Thrill Being Back is Great
It seems that Phil Kessel took the bull by the horns this offseason and worked hard on getting into better playing shape which helps to avoid injuries. In three games thus far he has scored three times. Those are Connor McDavid numbers.
No fan in their right mind expects Kessel to continue on this torrid pace. If he did, it would result in him gathering 56 goals in this shortened season! Being a realist, we all know that won’t happen. Still, it’s more than exciting that he is off to such a good start this season.
The Coyotes have never been described as an offensive powerhouse. When they lost Taylor Hall and Carl Soderberg, head coach Rick Tocchet stated that the team needs to find another 0.3 – 0.5 more goals a game. If Mr. Kessel continues his newly found offensive prowess, that increased offence may be already obtained.
Phil Kessel Can be an Offensive Threat
So far if you watched Kessel’s first three outings, you had to notice his increased level of play. He even stayed in the crease area to hammer one home, which is uncharacteristic for his normal play. Then, on another sweet play he deflected a shot into the net with precision and skill.
Let’s face it, if Kessel can score more near this normal 0.35 goals a game, the Coyotes will be a much better team. And, when a natural scorer like him catches fire it ignites the others on the team. Another player criticized for his lack of production lately is Clayton Keller. He has two goals and one assist in his first three games. Keller signed a huge contract that pays him $7.15 million for the next eight years.
Phil Kessel Showing He’s Ready to Excel
Kessel showed his dedication to excelling this season by putting in the work over the offseason. According to azcoyotesinsider Craig Morgan he enlisted the help of former Coyotes’ strength and conditioning advisor Tommy Powers. Phil put Powers to work getting him in tip-top shape.
“He showed up every day, five days a week for a couple of hours,” Powers said. “He was always working hard. Even on the field when we were doing turf work and we’d be grinding him, we’d say, ‘OK, that’s a good workload for today’ and he’d be like, ‘No, let’s do a finisher. We need to do a finisher.’
“We were out on the field twice a week, sometimes three and we’d make up more conditioning finishers, sprints or movement drills or agility drills that he wanted to put in at the end of the session to send him home a little more tired. It was pretty cool to see. A guy like that could have said, ‘Alright, enough. You said the session is over.’ For him to ask for more shows his dedication.”
That can only mean success for the Coyotes. Having Kessel out there ready to go and healthy is as good as it gets. He’s already proving his offseason regimen is working. The results are obvious. Hopefully, he can keep it up and get the Coyotes the offensive charge it desperately needs. Kessel has shown in the past to be a prolific power-play specialist. He has 112 goals and 186 assists on the man advantage in his 1,069 career games in the NHL. If Phil is back to his old self, there’s no telling what success he and the Coyotes may be able to achieve.
For the Coyotes to be able to get into the postseason again it will take more than just Phil Kessel excelling. Other young players like Keller, Christian Dvorak, Nick Schmaltz, Jakob Chychrun, and Barrett Hayton will need to step up, all in their own way. With Phil Kessel guiding them along the way, they have a great shot at being an accomplished NHL player for years to come.