When the Arizona Coyotes acquired Phil Kessel last summer, the hope was that he could be the offensive spark the team desperately needed to turn it into a regular playoff contender.
The blockbuster trade made between the Coyotes and Pittsburgh Penguins saw Kessel reunited with head coach Rick Tocchet, along with prospect Dane Birks and a 2021 fourth-round pick, while seeing the Coyotes offload Alex Galchenyuk and defensive prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph.
Many hailed the trade as a coup for the Coyotes, bringing in a new era of positivity after a season of battling against all odds to put themselves within reach of the playoffs.
What followed for Kessel, however, was arguably the worst season of his professional career and third-lowest points total, with only his first two seasons with the Boston Bruins seeing him register fewer.
14 goals and 38 total points in 70 regular-season games is not the return the organization was hoping for when making the trade, taking on his $6.8 million cap hit in the process.
Overall, Kessel had a down year in terms of shots taken (153) and his shooting percentage (9.2%) while also seeing his playing time drop to its lowest since the 2008/09 season.
All of these factors have contributed to Kessel’s lack of consistency and form across the 2019/20 season, but things need to change if the Arizona Coyotes are to have any real chance at progressing in the upcoming 24-team playoffs.
For one, partnering Kessel with playmakers that can truly support his skill set should reward the team with more goals and a much-needed boost in morale.
Having Kessel play on a line with Taylor Hall, who has been the most consistent forward on the team since his arrival, as well as Christian Dvorak, who has great numbers (55.1%) in the face-off circle as well as having the second-most goals on the team with 18, could see Tocchet’s side pose a legitimate threat in the offensive zone.
Retaining possession and having two high-skilled players on the wings capable of scoring goals, forcing teams to consider who they will need to cover defensively, could be a way that the team can become a threat once play resumes.
Seeing Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz partnered together once again, likely with the defensively savvy Carl Soderberg, could also give them a strong top six that can overcome the struggles they faced in the second portion of the regular season.
The Arizona Coyotes need to get creative to put the team in the best position to progress when their best-of-five ‘play-in’ series begins and they need to find a way to get Kessel back to his old self to do it.
Kessel, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Penguins, has shown that he is capable of finding another gear once the playoffs start, with the knockout system putting a greater emphasis on nightly performances.
The motivation to win should still be strong for Kessel and his desire to play under Tocchet with the Coyotes should help spur him on as things get going. But the team will need to do something extra to truly put him in the best position to succeed and not continue with how things were going before the season halted.