Kessel: No looking back

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:20 AM ET

If there is one man who has heard more about the Brian Burke blockbuster deal with the Bruins, it is the central character in the whole drama.

And if anyone has the power to shut up those who think the Maple Leafs general manager lost his marbles when he gave up a pair of first-round picks and a second for Phil Kessel, it is the man himself.

There is no guarantee that the stars of the Taylor, Tyler Show on Friday night in Los Angeles will be able to match the offensive ability of Kessel in the short or long term.

So, here’s where Kessel has the opportunity to make the biggest statement of his young career. While he’s at home training in Wisconsin over the next few months, he has the chance to get in the best shape he has been as a pro.

“I couldn’t really work out last year because I was still recovering from my injury,” Kessel said recently. “This year will be different.

“Last year, I was thrown in 12 games into the year and really wasn’t able to work out. I didn’t play hockey for six months before that, didn’t skate or anything.”

Kessel has never been known as a workout freak but more as a player who got by on his considerable offensive skills. Many questioned his fitness towards the end of last season when the he often looked gassed at the end of his shifts.

Despite missing the first dozen games after recovering from off-season shoulder surgery that also cost him the chance to participate in training camp, Kessel had a decent season. In 70 games on a team that wasn’t exactly deep in complementary offensive players, he was still able to lead the Leafs in goal scoring with 30, the second best total in his career.

“It was a frustrating season for us but we’ve got a good team here. We’re going to be competitive. This year is going to be different,” he said.

Burke is counting on it, of course to avoid the embarrassment of watching the Bruins pick high again at next year’s draft.

And the GM remains adamant that it was the right deal to make.

“We’d do it again,” Burke said this week. “We talked about this when we made the deal. At that point, I think we were 6-2 in the pre-season and it seemed remote.

“We got a 21-year-old that scored 36 goals and we felt: ‘We’re doing it anyway.’ ”

And Kessel said he’s doing his part to justify the move.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca


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