Welcome back, wow factor

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

Now that the all the hype and hoopla are over, here are 10 things we learned about Phil Kessel last night from his Maple Leafs debut -- one for every shot he had on net.

1. In recent weeks there have been suggestions that the deal to bring Kessel to the Maple Leafs for two first-rounders and a second-round pick might be one of the worst in franchise history.

After Phil The Thrill's electrifying performance last night, can we put a temporary gag order on such talk please? It is far too early to make such claims. And, after watching Kessel oozing his raw offensive skills last night, you can see why general manager Brian Burke paid such a heavy price to land this talented kid, who has yet to reach his 23rd birthday.

If the Leafs finish dead last and the Boston Bruins get the top overall selection in a deep 2010 draft, the criticism will be legit. But let's at least give Kessel a chance to prove he's worthy of Burke's risky gamble.

2. We haven't heard a buzz ripple through an Air Canada Centre crowd like this whenever a guy starts to get his jets motoring early in a rush since, well, probably Alex Mogilny. Even Mats Sundin didn't ignite this kind of murmur through the stands.

3. This kid shoots from anywhere. The corner. The slot. The faceoff circle. The press box.

4. One of the knocks on Kessel in Boston was that he at times skated with his head down. That was the case at 13:40 of the first period when one of his patented rushes ended with a "smack," courtesy of Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Mattias Ohlund.

The bone-crushing hit left Kessel flattened and temporarily dazed; the crowd gasping in fear; and Burke's face probably as white as his finely-groomed hair.

"I knew who it was," Ohlund said of his victim.

Kessel told coach Ron Wilson it was the hardest hit he had ever absorbed in the NHL. If he keeps skating with his head down, there will be more.

5. Kessel's surgically-repaired shoulder seems to be fine.

It received the ultimate test, courtesy of Ohlund.

Maybe he should send the Lightning defenceman a thank you card.

On second thought, that's not happening.

6. His teammates certainly have his back.

Within moments of Ohlund's hit, linemate Matt Stajan was in Ohlund's face. Normally such retaliation for a clean check, which seems to be the norm these days, is needless. But in this instance, it was Stajan's way of saying: "Welcome to the Maple Leaf family. We're behind you."

7. Stajan seems to be a good fit to centre Kessel, consistently feeding him the puck in shooting lanes.

There are hopes within the organization that, perhaps a year from now, young Nazem Kadri might be his playmaker. Or, with only six forwards under contract for next season, the Leafs likely will explore free agency to complement Kessel up front.

Marc Savard, his former linemate in Boston, is unrestricted next summer. We're not tampering here. We're just saying ...

8. Kessel definitely will help a struggling Leafs team that has lost four overtime games this year. With more open ice in 4-on-4 play, he becomes far more dangerous, as he was in the extra frame last night.

9. For a team that has been pathetic in shootouts over the years, he should provide a boost, judging by some of the one-on-one moves he is capable of producing.

10. The electrifying Kessel gives disgruntled Leafs fans a reason to watch.

And, given the team has won just once in 13 games after last night's 2-1 overtime loss to the Lightning, they really do need a reason.

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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