Pittsburgh Penguins: Phil Kessel is Still Underrated

Feb 17, 2017; Columbus, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Phil Kessel (81) against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets won 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 17, 2017; Columbus, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Phil Kessel (81) against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets won 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

On July 1, 2015, the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

At the time, Phil Kessel was Toronto’s best player, but he was also at a point in his career where the critics in Toronto loved to pick on him. Being the number one player in Toronto is a big responsibility that places a lot of pressure on someone, unlike with the Pittsburgh Penguins. With the media and hockey-crazy fans over there, a quiet and awkward player who is simply known for scoring goals may not have the easiest time being their best player. Just take a look now, Auston Matthews is Toronto’s new best player and he embraces everything that comes with it, something that Kessel was unable to do.

But that was not Kessel’s fault. He needed to go somewhere where he could play without so much pressure. Pittsburgh was the perfect destination, in which he arguably became our third or fourth best player. In this sense, though, I have to say that Phil Kessel is still underrated in my eyes. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why.

Last Season

Phil Kessel’s expectations at the beginning of last season were quite high. After all, the Penguins were going to put one of the best wingers in the game with the best centre in the game. Unfortunately, playing alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin didn’t pan out exactly as planned right from the get go.

Scoring 26 goals and 33 assists for 59 points in a full season last year, Kessel’s contributions to the team were often overlooked. However, I think his contributions were actually essential to the team’s success. His efforts still placed him third in the Penguins points leaders for the season, behind just Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang. He was definitely a presence out there for the team, but because his numbers were a slight decrease from previous years he was often overlooked.

In the playoffs however, Kessel really showed his value. Putting up 10 goals and 12 assists in 24 games as part of the HBK line last season, Kessel was the team’s scoring leader in the playoffs.

Even with this effort, Kessel didn’t win the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe Crosby definitely deserved that trophy. But can we at least consider that this may be one of the first major indications that Kessel is underrated?

Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins /

Pittsburgh Penguins

This Season

This season, Kessel has performed very well. So far, he has put up 22 goals and 41 assists for 63 points. These have been spectacular numbers for Kessel, but yet he doesn’t seem to get the recognition he deserves. I mean, yes he’s put up better numbers in his season before. But he is still an elite winger, probably one of the best in the league.

Kessel currently sits 17th in point scoring in the entire league. This is really impressive in the scope of things. I mean, Kessel is essentially still a top 20 player in the league. There are so many superstars in today’s game, but Kessel isn’t being considered as one for some reason. Really? A top 20 player can’t even make the All-Star Game?

Consistency is Key

One thing that I think people fail to see when judging Kessel’s play is exactly how consistent he is.

Every season for the least six seasons, Kessel has put up nearly 60 points at least (including the lockout shortened year in which he was on pace for 80+). 60 point scorers don’t always come by. When they do, they often hit that mark for a season or two and then fall off again. The only exception to this are superstars who consistently hit 60 or more year in and year out. Kessel may not hit 80+ points which doesn’t make him stand out as much, but the fact that he is consistent at 60 is still good enough to show that he is elite.

I think this factor of consistency is something that people don’t pay enough attention to. If a player comes out of nowhere and scores 80-90 points one season, he is seen as a superstar, even if he may take a dip after. Although Kessel has hit this point twice before, people often overlook him because he has dipped a bit after both times. But his dips aren’t by much and he has still shown he can be a strong factor on a team.

Never Mind the Stats

Even after all this though, I think people have to realize that it’s not all about stats. Kessel may have taken a dip in his numbers, but his team’s success has increased since he arrived.

He has played with subpar linemates his whole career and has still been able to make a difference for his team and rack up points. Not just any player can do this. Only elite players of a certain calibre can. Not to mention, he has not missed a game in over 500 games. An active ironman in the league, Kessel brings a whole lot to the table.

Kessel has been able to make an already good team Stanley Cup champions. I’m not saying he did this single-handedly, but if we look at all these little tidbits of contributions that he has made, it becomes pretty clear how important he is.

He may not be number one in Pittsburgh but he’d surely be number one on a lot of other teams. Kessel is underrated, so let’s start giving him some more praise.