Coyotes’ Kessel on becoming leader on new team: ‘I’m not a rah-rah guy’

Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka joined Sportsnet to talk about trading for Phil Kessel and what the scorer brings to the team.

Phil Kessel will be counted on for more than just goals when he debuts with the Arizona Coyotes later this year.

The star forward, who was acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this summer, is set to take on a leadership role on his new club and it’s something he says he’s looking forward to.

“I think it’s going to be great,” Kessel told Adam Kimelman of NHL.com. “I’m going to do whatever I can to help these guys win and help them improve. The young guys have questions or anything they want to talk about, I’m there to talk about it. Try to get our team better and them better.”

The Arizona blue line is full of veterans with strong leadership qualities like Niklas Hjalmarsson and Alex Goligoski, but Brad Richardson and Carl Soderberg are the only Coyotes forwards older than Kessel and none of the forwards have enjoyed more post-season success than No. 81, who registered 45 points in 49 games during Pittsburgh’s back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017.

“Everyone leads in their own way, and Phil can be a leader in the sense of grabbing young players and talking to them about those situations, what he sees, how he creates offence, how he’s done it over a number of years, been one of the most successful guys in the league at doing that,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said. “That was a big part of it. We wanted someone that has Phil’s mind for the game and can help our young players in that sense.”

Kessel added: “I’m not a rah-rah guy, to say the least. I just want to be a good guy. Guys can relate to me, and I like to have fun. If they want to talk hockey, I like to talk hockey too. But all in all, just enjoy ourselves first and foremost because if you enjoy yourself you can play your best. Be loose and be prepared to play.”

Since the start of the 2008-09 campaign, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane are the only players with more goals than Kessel’s 327.

The Coyotes are coming off their best regular season in five years and have momentum and optimism heading into 2019-20.

Kessel’s transition to his new team should be made easier by the fact he’s familiar with Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet. The pair developed a solid relationship during Kessel’s first two seasons in Pittsburgh during which Tocchet was an assistant coach.

“It’s a wider range of leadership for Phil coming here because it’s a different dynamic, a different team. But I still want him to be who he is,” Tocchet said. “I don’t want him to come in here with a hammer and say, ‘I’m going to lead these guys.’ I just need him to be a calming influence. Because I think he’s got some good hockey knowledge that can help the young guys.”

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