Phil Kessel has been cleared to play tonight at home against the Lightning.
The Leafs will be receiving a boost tonight as Phil Kessel makes his much anticipated debut. In the last 4 games the Leafs have strung together 4 strong performances and have had a serious chance to win them all. They’ve shown some serious guts to tie the game up twice with less than 1 minute remaining. The bad news is that at this point the Leafs will have to play at a pace that hasn’t been done by them in years. Presumably somewhere in the 15-18 games over .500 pace to have a shot at making the playoffs in which Brian Burke so adamantly suggested the Leafs would be participating in. Phil Kessel brings many skill sets that should help the Leafs in their run to the playoffs. He brings great speed, agility and also the ability to put the puck in the net as shown by his 36 goals in 70 games last year. The problem is that the bar is set pretty high for Kessel, perhaps even too high for the skills he possesses. Besides the rust of not playing for 6 months, Kessel will have to deal with some restless fans that have endured a long frustrating and unimpressive 1 win in the club’s first 11 games. If fans aren’t patient with Kessel it could hurt the team in the long run. The more he is eased into this hostile environment the more comfortable he’ll feel and in turn the more goals he will score.
Kessel has been practicing on a line with Matt Stajan and Jason Blake, which makes sense considering the current success the Grabovski line is having. The glaring issue here is the lack of a set up man for Kessel to play with. Sure Stajan is a pass first type of player but he’s no Marc Savard. I’d expect to see some line juggling in the next few games to try and develop some chemistry with Kessel and some linemates so keep an eye on that. Personally I feel Kessel, Grabovski and Hagman might be the line that could be the most deadly but then again I’m not coaching in the NHL…yet. For now there’s reason for excitement in Toronto, as night in and night out they should be fairly competitive, the playoffs are still a little bit of a distant vision, but it’s a start.
Kessel may be the only Leaf forward worth having on your fantasy team, but he may spark a struggling Jason Blake or Matt Stajan. I wouldn’t expect too much from him early, again he hasn’t played a hockey game in 6 months. Advice: Keep him on your IR for a couple games and let him get back in the groove before you activate him.