Kessel didn’t get to Pittsburgh and immediately light it up, though. His least-productive season for the Penguins was his first, back in 2015–16, when he had 59 points. Rutherford could tell it was taking time for Kessel to settle in with this new team, something the GM could relate to, having joined the Penguins after a two-decade stint with the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes. “He didn’t talk about it a lot, but I could sense there was an adjustment period,” Rutherford says. “You have those memories of the place you just came from, if you were there for a long time. And deep down, he didn’t want to leave Toronto. He wanted to be a guy that helped the team get better.”
Kessel couldn’t be that guy in Toronto, but in Pittsburgh, he can and he is. Just ask Malkin, his sometimes linemate: “We really like signing him two years ago because he’s [a] spark for our team,” says the guy who’s been awarded the Art Ross Trophy twice, and the Hart and Conn Smythe once apiece. “We understand he can score every shift, he’s so dangerous, you know? His shot’s, I think, the best shot in the whole league.”
Kessel hit the 30-plus goal mark for the sixth time in his career last season and nobody scored more than his 18 goals in Pittsburgh’s last two Cup runs, but it’s his playmaking that teammates call underrated. In Game 3 of their first-round win over the Flyers, Kessel patiently waited by the net and then, just when you thought he was going to shoot, fed a pass to Derick Brassard in the slot.
Brassard joined the Penguins just ahead of the trade deadline last season, but in his brief time with Kessel occasionally on his wing, the former Senator learned to expect the unexpected. “It’s pretty incredible what he can do with the puck,” Brassard says. “He’s got a really good wrister, so it keeps everyone on their heels a little bit — and the goalies.”
Originally published at https://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/phil-kessel-pittsburgh-penguins-nhl-100-profile/