Arizona Coyotes Phil Kessel Must Perform in Play-in Series

Phil Kessel
ST. LOUIS, MO - FEBRUARY 20: Arizona Coyotes rightwing Phil Kessel (81) during an NHL game between the Arizona Coyotes and the St. Louis Blues, on February 20, 2020, at Enterprise Center, St. Louis, MO. Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It’s been just over a year that the Arizona Coyotes pulled off a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins to acquire star forward Phil Kessel. The Coyotes also received Dane Birks and Pittsburgh’s 4th round pick in 2021 NHL Draft for Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre-Olivier Joseph.

Kessel had a very disappointing season this past year. He only tallied five even-strength goals and while netting nine on the power play, his production was the lowest since his second year in the league. Kessel finished the pandemic shortened season with 14 goals and 24 assists for an anemic 38 points.

He only took 153 shots which were his lowest since the shortened 2012-13 season when he had 161. What’s the old saying… you can’t score if you don’t shoot?

Much can be attributed to him not being 100 percent healthy. He struggled with a groin injury early but pressed onward to keep his consecutive games played streak alive at 844 games. In hindsight, perhaps that was a judgement error on his part. It affected his overall performance. Plus, it certainly didn’t give the Coyotes the much-needed offence they yearned for when they traded for him.

Phil Kessel Will be Key Player vs Nashville

Even though the Coyotes looked to miss the playoffs for yet another year, they lucked out when the NHL decided to include 24 teams to participate in a play-in tournament. That will determine which teams remain to play in the “actual” playoff competition.

The Coyotes need the Phil Kessel who averaged 3.27 shots per game before he packed his bags to move to the desert. They need the Phil Kessel who has averaged 0.35 goals and 0.46 assists per game over his 14-year career.

Against the Nashville Predators, Kessel will need to put the puck in the net. And for that to happen his linemates projected to be Conor Garland and Nick Schmaltz, need to put the puck on Kessel’s stick. He has to be the go-to guy. When he’s open or has a shot possibility he has proven he can bury it. But… he can’t score without the puck.

Schmaltz had the most assists on the team this season with 34. He needs to keep Phil on his radar as he breaks into the offensive zone. Garland actually scored eight more goals than Kessel, and that really accentuates how depressing Kessel’s offensive game was this year.

Phil Kessel is Healthy Now

Kessel has stated to the press, “I feel good right now,”, adding that he is looking forward to training camp opening on July 10. “I feel better than I did all year so I’m excited. My body feels good, I feel rested, and I’m going to be ready to go.”

All Coyotes’ fans certainly hope he is rested and in good shape to start perhaps the most important postseason play in his career. It’s obvious that he was not satisfied or pleased with his performance this season. There’s really only one way to replace that displeasure and that’s by doing what he does best… scoring.

He seemed out of gas and didn’t show any speed at times and that could be attributed to his groin injury. Teammate Darcy Kuemper can certainly agree with that assessment. He missed two months with the same injury. The big issue with groin injuries is how long it takes to recover from them. Treatment helps and it now appears that Kessel is ready to go. He hopefully will show he’s ready to go from the drop of the first puck against the Predators.

Kessel had two goals on two shots against the Predators back on October 17, 2019. He failed to score on two shots in the other matchup on December 23, 2019. The two clubs were scheduled to meet for a final regular-season game on March 28th. That was scrubbed when the season went into suspension.

Kessel’s Contract and Future With the Coyotes

Kessel still has two years remaining on his contract at an AAV of $6.8 million. The Coyotes gave up a very promising prospect in defenceman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, and hope that Kessel can show it was a good decision.

Joseph appears ready to become the top defenceman in the Penguins’ system after they traded Calen Addison to Minnesota Wild as part of the Jason Zucker deal.

Of course, Kessel is no youngster who turns 33-years-old in early October. The Coyotes need to get their return on the trade. What better place to do that than in the play-in series? If they can get production from Kessel along with Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz, Garland and get Oliver Ekman-Larsson back on track, they will be headed to play their desert rival Vegas Golden Knights in the playoffs.

So, will we see the recovered, healthy Phil Kessel? If so, he can dominate in the playoffs as exhibited by his 33 goals and 44 assists in 87 playoff contests.

That’s the Phil Kessel that needs to show up.

But… will he?

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