Kessel still waiting but itchin' to go

Phil Kessel will not be in the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup for Friday's tilt against the Buffalo...

Phil Kessel will not be in the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup for Friday's tilt against the Buffalo Sabres. (Jack Boland/Sun Media)

TERRY KOSHAN, Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:39 PM ET

BUFFALO — When Phil Kessel takes his first shift for the Maple Leafs, Mike Komisarek, for a change, won’t have to fight the urge to lay Kessel out.

Komisarek, before leaving the Montreal Canadiens to sign with the Leafs last July, was an arch-rival of Kessel and the Boston Bruins and used to hate trying to fend off the gifted goal-scorer.

“After playing against him for a few years and trying to take his head off, you see that he is a pretty good kid,” Komisarek said. “And an even better hockey player. He’s always moving his feet, and is one of the quickest and most agile guys out there.”

The Leafs are keeping their fingers crossed that Kessel will start earning his five-year, $27-million US contract on Tuesday when the Tampa Bay Lightning visits the Air Canada Centre. If not then, expect the 22-year-old to play in one of the Leafs’ games that weekend, either in Carolina on Friday or at home against Detroit on Saturday.

There’s no question that Kessel has had enough of practising. His surgically repaired left shoulder is good to go, but there he was Friday at the HSBC Arena, on the ice into the early afternoon with teammates Jamal Mayers and Jeff Finger and assistant coaches Tim Hunter and Rob Zettler, taking part in drills long after the rest of the Leafs had departed the building.

“Until I actually play in a game, I have no clue how I will be out there,” Kessel said. “You don’t want to come back too early and get injured again and be another six months.

“When they clear me to play in games and say I am ready to go, I will be ready. It’s tough to watch. I want to play as soon as possible.”

Coach Ron Wilson quashed a rumour that was making the rounds in the morning, one that had Kessel wanting to play last night.

“There is no truth to that,” Wilson said. “I don’t know where rumblings like that would come from.”

Some figure Kessel will line up with Matt Stajan and Jason Blake, but Wilson still is considering the options.

“It’s going to be a huge boost for us to have another threat,” Komisarek said. “To start the season, people were worried about how we were going to score goals. But we have seen (Niklas) Hagman pick it up, and Phil gives us another option.”

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca


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