Phil Kessel has scored three goals in the opening two games of the 2021 season and the Arizona Coyotes are finally seeing the player they traded for 18 months ago.
When the Coyotes announced the trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins that saw them land Kessel, in exchange primarily for Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre-Olivier Joseph, many hoped that this would finally give the team a legitimate offensive threat.
His signing saw boosts in both ticket and jersey sales as anticipation built rapidly, with the Coyotes showing real promise towards the end of the 2018/19 season and the belief that Kessel could be the final piece to the puzzle as they pushed for the post-season.
Fast forward to January 2021 and Kessel’s first season in the desert failed to live up to the lofty expectations. In 70 games during the Covid-shortened 2019/20 season, Kessel scored 14 goals and registered just 38 total points - the third-lowest single-season total of his career.
It was a far cry from the point-per-game player he was in his final year with Pittsburgh, and the 92 points (34 goals, 58 assists) he posted the year prior, and questions were raised over where one of the most consistent offensive performers in the NHL over the past decade had disappeared to.
Kessel’s playoffs weren’t much better, with four points (one goal, three assists) in nine games and it was discovered prior to that that the former fifth overall pick in the 2006 Draft had struggled throughout the campaign with an undisclosed injury.
Kessel continues to play on a lengthy iron man streak and there were fears of him losing that last season, but he persevered and maintained it, but potentially at the detriment to both his team and his own individual performances.
The 2021 season brings with it new questions for the Coyotes, including what type of Kessel the team would see, but if things continue the way they have started, then it seems they finally have the player they were expecting when making the initial trade.
To start the season, Kessel has scored three goals in two contests over the San Jose Sharks and is now just 11 goals away from last season’s total with 54 games in which to do it.
His positioning on the ice, his battling for the puck, and, most importantly of all, his goal-scoring touch have all been markedly better so far this season and the Coyotes will be delighted to finally see the team getting the best out of the player known as ‘The Thrill’.
His current shooting percentage of 60% is clearly unsustainable, with a career average of 11%, but it is positive to see Kessel hitting the back of the net and putting in solid performances that were too few and far between during his debut season in the desert.
If Kessel can keep rolling and go on a hot streak, it bodes well for Rick Tocchet’s side’s hopes of claiming one of the four playoff spots available in the West Division and will be a storyline worth following.