2006 eligible Phil Kessel meets expectations

By Simon Richard





2005 Prospects: Alex Bourret

He is only 17, but there is already a lot of pressure on him because
this golden boy has made a name for himself, accumulating both exploits and
great numbers.

He is an American playing right now in his homeland, trying to defend
the only gold medal ever won by the USA at the WJC.

His name is Phil Kessel. He has taken the pressure so far at the
2005 World Junior Championship in stride.

One of the best U.S. players

On December 25th, with a local crowd already shouting ‘USA
USA, USA’, coach Scott Sandelin placed the youngest member of his team on the
ice for the opening faceoff of the first U.S. game of the tournament against
Russia.

“I was shoulder to shoulder with [Alexander] Ovechkin
on the ice. I was a little nervous out there,” told Kessel to Hockey’s
Future after that game. “It was unbelievable.”

The U.S. team won that opening game 5-4. Kessel played on regular shifts
mostly with Drew Stafford and Dan Fritsche. He also played on
power plays. Overall, he played very well.

Kessel was enraptured by both the experience and the atmosphere after
that game. “It was a great game, a great atmosphere and wow, the pace was
very fast,” he commented.

“You know, these are the best players in the world. It has been a
great game.”

Asked how he felt to be part of this team, Kessel answered “It is
an honor, a great honor to be part of it, I’m happy to be on this team having
the opportunity to meet the likes of [Evgeni] Malkin and
Ovechkin.”

In the following U.S. game, Kessel showed his exceptional genius on ice
while he beat a Swiss defenseman one-on-one and before sending a pass right on
the tape to Kevin Porter for an easy goal.

“He played well against Russia, he played well against Swiss,”
commented the U.S. assistant coach David Quinn, adding that Kessel was growing
with the tournament.

“His best games are yet to come,” told Quinn to HF before the
game against Belarus.

Quinn was exactly right.

In the stunning 5-3 lost against Belarus, the Madison, Wis. native had
seven shots on goal in just the first period, including one goal. Never
quitting, he added two shots in the third while the U.S. worked to avoid the
defeat. Kessel was named the best player of that game for USA.

Finally, the high touted 2006 eligible was again undoubtedly one of the
best players for USA in the game against Czech Republic. He set great passes
and worked physically. He certainly could have won the game player award in
that game as well.

Compared to Crosby

The 6’0, 185-pound Kessel has been compared several times to the
Canadian Sidney Crosby.

Even David Quinn has made the connection, telling HF in the Ralph
Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks “He is here because he deserves to be here,
he is gone to realize how good he is.

“He is our Sidney Crosby.”

As Crosby, Kessel accumulated remarkable statistics while playing in
minor hockey.

He tallied 286 points (176-110) with the Madison Capitals Bantam AAA
team in 86 games in 2001-02, placing his team second at the USA Bantam National
Championship.

The following season, Kessel recorded in 71 games played, 113 goals and
45 assists for 158 points with the Madison (Wis.) Capitals Major team.

He may well follow Crosby as the first NHL draftee overall in 2006. Like
Crosby, he has some good genes, both having a father who was an athlete before.

Crosby’s father Troy was a good junior hockey goalkeeper. He was drafted
by the Montreal Canadiens in 1984. Kessel’s father, Phil, was a quarterback for
Northern Michigan University and was drafted as well by a professional team,
the NFL Washington Redskins.

He has chosen the NTDP

Kessel is playing his second season with the USA National Team
Development program.

As of December 6th, he was leading the program with 27 points
(15-12) in 11 games. The previous season, he had 82 points (52-30) in 62 games.

In April 2004, he helped his team to win the silver medal at the
Under-18 World Championship held in Minsk, Belarus. He scored seven goals,
leading all goal scorers along with the Slovak Roman Tomanek.

The OHL’s Saginaw Spirit owns the rights on Kessel in the CHL.

“I talked to them a little bit but I then chose the NTDP because I
thought it was the way to go for me,” stated Kessel.

Kessel explained his decision. “It is the best program that fits to
me. There are workouts four times a week, there are great coaches too.”

Kessel is in his last year at the NTDP. He told HF that he has not
thought yet what will be his option for the next season, which could in fact be
his last before playing in the NHL.

David Quinn
comments on Kessel

The U.S. assistant coach of
the U-20 team David Quinn has coached for two seasons the U.S. National the
U-17. He knows Kessel pretty well.

 

“I saw him grow last
year. He now looks bigger. He was a kid last year and if he is not quite a man
yet, he is turning into a man,” observed Quinn after a team practice.

 

Quinn commented on the main
qualities of Kessel. “The first thing is that he’s got a world class
speed. The puck does not slow him down, he is as fast with the puck as without
it. It is a unique ability.”

 

The U.S. assistant coach also
mentions that Kessel has a great hockey sense. “He passes the puck very
well and shoots the puck as fast as anybody that I have seen.”

 

 

Simon
Richard is the author of La Serie du siecle, Septembre 1972, a book about the
Summit Series published in 2002.
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the
editorial staff.