Kessel hopes to rub the Bruins the wrong way

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:20 PM ET

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The public display of Phil Kessel may seem like an indifferent shrug of the shoulders at what awaits Saturday night in Boston.

But from the moment the Leafs team plane lands at Logan Airport in the early hours Friday morning, the ultra-competitive side of Toronto’s designated sniper will be clear to his teammates.

Facing the club that drafted him in a city that at times might not always have appreciated his talents will be the main attraction at the TD Banknorth Garden Saturday night.

“He’s excited, I’ll tell you that,” linemate Matt Stajan said of Kessel. “It’s going to be a big night for him.”

And why wouldn’t he be? After being dealt to the Leafs prior to the season, Kessel has been a hot topic in both Original Six cities.

In Boston, there was an element of good riddance as many wondered how productive he would be without centre Marc Savard to feed him.

In Toronto, the second-guessing won’t end that general manager Brian Burke overpaid for the Wisconsin native when he dealt a pair of first-round picks and a second-rounder to the Bruins.

With eight goals and 13 points in 14 games prior to Thursday night’s, one thing is certain: Kessel has emerged as the most feared player on the Leafs roster.

“I think there are maybe six guys like him in the league,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. “As a coach, you don’t show tape on many individual players, but you show tape on him.

“When you have to do that for your team, it shows how dynamic that player is.”

Hitchcock pointed to a pair of plays in the Leafs’ 3-0 win over Montreal on Tuesday. On one, Kessel set up Stajan for a goal on a breakaway. On another, he broke free for a break of his own but shot wide.

“He puts you on edge and makes you nervous to play against,” Hitchcock said. “Speed with hockey sense is a dangerous combination.”

It could be argued that Kessel has shone with the Leafs because he’s the one legitimate offensive threat on the roster. On the other hand, imagine what he might do when he gets big-time linemates like Savard.

“I read the naysayers out of Boston who said he didn’t score any important goals,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said recently. “For us, any goal is important and he’s found a way to do that.”

As quiet as he can appear publicly Kessel seems to be a good fit in the Leafs room. He’s not afraid to take a playful shot at his coach at times and his competitiveness has apparently won over his new teammates.

“He goes out every single night and proves what he can do,” said Leafs goaltender Joey MacDonald, who played briefly with Kessel in Boston at the end of the 2007-08 season.

“You can see how this team has reacted. It’s kind of rubbed off on everybody.”

Saturday in Boston, Kessel will be looking to rub the Bruins the wrong way.


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