There were some detractors in Toronto that didn’t believe Phil Kessel was worth building around. “Haters” are nothing new to Kessel though. Since he’s arrived with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he’s been a lightning rod for criticism and nothing he does seems to be good enough for all of the onlookers.
For instance, some saw the way he handled the John Scott confrontation as soft. Which is ridiculous, by the way. Others want to see a more outspoken and abrasive leader as the centerpiece of the offense for the Leafs. Suddenly Toronto is winning hockey games though, and they sit atop of the Eastern Conference.
Ahead of the Boston Bruins. Ahead of the Detroit Red Wings. Ahead of just about everyone across the league, the Leafs have risen. They are 8-4 and are getting a stronger lineup as they progress. They just added David Clarkson to much fanfare. Jonathan Bernier is suddenly garnering consideration to make Team Canada in the Olympics.
Quietly behind all that noise in hoopla is Kessel. He leads the team in points, goals, shots, power-play points, is second in assists and fourth in plus-minus. All of this after signing a maximum eight-year deal to stay in Toronto over the summer. He’s clearly not motivated by money at this point. All he’s become is one of the most consistent goal scorers in the NHL.
He has been every since he arrived. Kessel is on pace for his sixth consecutive 30-goal season (he would have scored 30 in 2013 had the lockout not ruined, you know, everything) and has been completely unassuming along the way. It’s unlikely he’ll ever be the captain for the Leafs.
At this point, it’d be surprising to see the city rally around him and give him the respect and recognition that he deserves. Still, there’s no denying that Kessel has stepped up his level of play and is rewarding the Leafs for re-signing him before the season began. Good for him, and good for Toronto.