Former Toronto Maple Leafs sniper Phil Kessel has broken his silence one day after being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In a phone interview with Dejan Kovacevic of dkonpittsburghsports.com, Kessel shared his thoughts on the move to Pittsburgh following a turbulent 2014-15 campaign in Toronto.
“Toronto was a place I loved, and it’s not easy leaving that, even with everything else,” Kessel said. “That’s the first thought. And then after that, I just see this as an opportunity, a great opportunity to be part of something special in Pittsburgh with some great players. I’m excited, right?”
The Penguins are clearly excited to have him as well.
Kessel, who is entering the second year of an eight-year contract, was scrutinized for his lacklustre play in the second half of the 2014-15 season. He still managed to register 25 goals and 36 assists in 82 games.
In six years with the Maple Leafs, Kessel scored 181 goals and registered 394 points in 446 games. Only Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry and Rick Nash have scored more goals during that six-year period. His Maple Leafs only qualified for the playoffs once.
“Obviously, when you have a chance to play on a great team, you’re thrilled,” Kessel said. “Being in Toronto, I got to play in one playoffs in all my years there. But that’s the best time of the year, right? Playoff hockey. Hopefully, I’ll get to play in many in Pittsburgh.”
While he enjoyed skating on a line with close friend Tyler Bozak, the 27-year-old Madison, Wisc., native will now likely have the opportunity to play alongside either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
“They’re both unbelievable hockey players, so I’m just excited to get a chance to play with them, whether that’s on a line or the power play or whatever,” Kessel explained.
“I’m just so excited, man. I really am. For it to be Pittsburgh… with everything that franchise has meant and two of the best players in the world there… I never would have thought I’d have the chance to play with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, to play on a team like the Penguins. It’s just amazing. I’m so pumped.”