The Arizona Coyotes Need One Newcomer To Step Up

He's been virtually non-existent through four games

Derrick Bostrum, Flickr
  • The Arizona Coyotes are 1-2-1 through four games.

  • In the offseason, they traded for Phil Kessel, a 31-year-old forward who has produced at least 60 points in five of the past six seasons and 824 (357 goals, 467 assists) in his NHL career. 

  • Through his first four games with the team, Kessel has notched just one assist, and is minus-2 with four penalty minutes. 

The Arizona Coyotes are counting on Phil Kessel to lead them to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2011-12. 

“I think I can fit well and help this team get to the next level,” Kessel told reporters during his first press conference in front of the Arizona media before training camp. “I've been around the League a long time now, and I think I can fit in here and help the young guys grow as players and help them take the next step to make this team into a contender (and) take this team where we want to be.”

Ten days into his stint with his new team, Kessel has yet to show tangible signs he can do it.

Arizona, which ranked 28th in goals scored last season, traded forward Alex Galchenyuk and defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, both first-round draft picks, to Pittsburgh over the summer for Kessel, a 31-year-old forward who has produced at least 60 points in five of the past six seasons and 824 (357 goals, 467 assists) in his NHL career.  

After four games with the Coyotes, Kessel has notched just one assist, and is minus-2 with four penalty minutes. 

And Arizona is 1-2-1 heading into Tuesday’s game at Winnipeg.

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Coyotes Head Coach Rick Tocchet lobbied for the trade for Kessel because the two developed a special relationship with the Penguins when Tocchet served as an assistant coach there not too long ago. Tocchet connected with Kessel, who connects with only a few. Some jokingly referred to Tocchet as the
“Phil Whisperer” because he was able to get Kessel to coexist and produce on a team loaded with expectations, media hype and other superstars such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

Tocchet scoffs at the “Phil Whisperer” nickname and insists Kessel, who hasn’t missed a game because of injury since the 2009-10 season, is simply misunderstand and not in need of coddling.

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We shall see how Kessel responds to being reunited with Tocchet and to the pressure the Coyotes have publicly placed on him to be the savior of their franchise. For example, the team has produced t-shirts with the phrase “Phil The Thrill” on them and are selling them in the team shop during home games. Speaking before the season, Kessel shrugged off the hype, specifically a question about how many of those t-shirts he expects to see at Coyotes games this season.  

“I honestly don't know,” Kessel told reporters. “I don't know if you'll see that many. It is what it is. I don't really care either way.”

Logic suggests Kessel, who played his 1,000th NHL game on Saturday, is ripe for a breakout game with his new team. With that in mind, fantasy hockey enthusiasts may want to acquire him for Tuesday’s game at Winnipeg. Kessel, who is skating on Arizona’s top line with Derek Stepan and Clayton Keller, has notched 19 goals and 17 assists in 39 career games against the Jets/Thrashers franchise.

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