Kessel says he's ready

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:10 PM ET

If Phil Kessel has a goal for goals this season, he’s not sharing.

But could being fit mean 40 for the lone, proven sniper on the Maple Leafs roster as training camp begins?

Kessel arrived for team physicals Friday at the Mastercard Centre looking noticeably trimmer, the product of an intense summer that saw him shed 10 pounds. Speedy already, his teammates say that in informal workouts the past few weeks, Kessel has had a jump on everyone on the ice.

“Just look at him, he looks really good, really fit,” Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said of Kessel. “When scrimmaging, you could see how fast he was then and we haven’t even started training camp.”

Whether a fitter Phil will lead to dramatically more production remains to be seen, but just having the chance to come to camp healthy is a huge boost for the 23-year-old Wisconsin native.

A year ago Kessel wasn’t yet a Leaf, still weeks away from the controversial trade that brought him here. While much of the off-season focus on that deal was Boston’s acquisition of Tyler Seguin with the No. 2 pick in the NHL draft, Kessel was apparently working hard to help hold up his end of the bargain.

After missing the first 12 games last year while recovering from off-season surgery, Kessel was thrust into the lineup of a Leafs team that had staggered out of the gate without the benefit of either an off-season workout regimen or a pre-season schedule to get in shape.

He still responded with 30 goals in 70 games, the last half dozen or more while nursing another injury.

“Yeah, I’m ready,” Kessel said when asked if he’s prepared to be the Leafs’ go-to goal guy. “Hopefully I can play a full season this year.

“Win games,” the winger added when asked if he set a target for production. “I know I have to score some goals for us to win games this year and I’m looking forward to it.”

He isn’t the only one. If the Leafs’ 25th-ranked offence doesn’t shoot upward, improvements on the back end won’t mean much.

“I expect Phil to score more goals,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said on Friday. “He has worked out hard this summer, probably more so than he ever has. But that’s part of the maturing process.”

The next step will be for the coach to see if he can take advantage of Kessel’s sniper’s touch. The Leafs power play that was worst in the league last season will be a start.

“I’ve got to find ways to get Phil the puck a little more in the offensive zone,” Wilson said. “And hopefully we can get our power play going so Phil can get some good looks in the high slot that haven’t been there in the past for him.”

As for the lean, new look, Kessel said he didn’t do anything different this summer, other than intense workouts with his brother and sister, who each play NCAA hockey.

“I just got back home and started training, the same stuff I’ve always done,” said Kessel, who was the first Leaf since Mats Sundin to hit the 30-goal mark. “I’m down in weight, obviously. Maybe a little more than 10 pounds. It just felt like that’s where I wanted to be.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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