In the NHL’s most media-soaked market, one of the most under-reported Toronto Maple Leafs stories might be one of the best attributes of the team’s most talented player.
Quietly, Phil Kessel has become wickedly unselfish. Known as a wing rusher and snappy shoot-first sniper, Kessel’s passing game is something to be admired. His passes are crisp and almost always on the tape. Watch just him the next time the Leafs on the power play.
From 2007-08 through 2009-10, the winger’s goal count outnumbered his assist total. But after scoring 32 in each column in 2010-11, Kessel’s goal-to-assist ratio has swung to the pass-friendly side. In 2011-12, he had eight more assists than goals. In 2012-13, 12 more. And through seven games in 2013-14, the star has three times as many helpers (six) and goals (two) — his most recent assist coming Tuesday night on Mason Raymond’s empty-net insurance goal.
Kessel could have easily knocked Raymond’s shot in. No one would have blamed him if he did; the puck was slowing down, and Raymond appeared to be passing it back to Kessel anyway. In fact, the Minnesota Wild actually thought Kessel did give it a little tappy.
Instead, Kessel did the classy thing — word to Ron Burgundy — and didn’t touch the puck. If Leaf Nation is sometimes split on its appreciation of Kessel — and it shouldn’t be — a play like that should silence his critics.
Raymond’s empty-netter gives the former Vancouver Canuck four goals and eight points in seven games played, making the $1-million man the best bargain of this young season.