Kessel doing his part for Leafs

Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel seals the deal with the Leafs third goal against the Florida Panthers....

Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel seals the deal with the Leafs third goal against the Florida Panthers. (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:41 PM ET

When the Maple Leafs opened up their dressing room doors to the media at the MasterCard Centre on Wednesday afternoon, Phil Kessel was nowhere to be seen.

A sarcastic type might process that information and come to the conclusion that Phil The Thrill was just practising for Thursday’s game against Boston, given the fact that he seems to disappear almost every time he lines up against his former Bruins teammates.

Kessel has notched just one assist and has gone minus-2 in the six games he has played versus the Beantowners since being traded to the Leafs 13 months ago.

But if he is to be legitimately slagged for that, then he also needs to be praised for the way he has produced for the Leafs against, well, pretty much the rest of the league.

Maybe Kessel is not the most quotable guy. He is friendly enough on those occasions you chat with him but, even then, he seems a bit uncomfortable, a bit edgy. Talking with reporters just isn’t is forte.

Scoring goals is.

And that’s the most important thing.

After you examine all the evidence, give Kessel credit for producing up to expectations, if not exceeding them, since being acquired from the Bruins in September 2009 for a pair of first-round draft picks and a second-rounder.

If you want to make the argument that general manager Brian Burke gave up too much in the deal, you might have a legitimate case. At the same time, no one can accuse Kessel of not living up to the billing.

In making the swap, Burke wanted to land an elite natural goal-scorer who was young enough to have his best years ahead of him. Of course, the league’s other 29 GMs could make the same claim.

To date, Burke has been pleased with Kessel’s results. And so, too, should the team’s passionate fan base.

“Phil has been good since he arrived in Toronto,” Burke said via e-mail Wednesday. “But with the ability to train for the first summer in three years, he is really off to a great start.”

Having battled health issues during the 2008 and ’09 off-seasons, Kessel came to camp this year in prime condition and is off to a roaring start, scoring seven times in eight games.

But even a year ago, when he missed the first month of the campaign while recovering from shoulder surgery, Kessel rebounded to piece together a 30-goal campaign.

How good has Kessel been?

Among NHLers 23 or younger, he has scored the fourth-most goals since the beginning of the 2009-10 season with 37, trailing just Steven Stamkos (59), Sidney Crosby (57) and Bobby Ryan (39).

Some media members already are banging the drums for Kessel to be a candidate for the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. If he continues to score about 30% of the Leafs goals (he has seven of their 23 thus far), maybe it won’t be such a far-fetched concept five months down the road.

Through it all, the most noticeable smudge on Kessel’s resume is his lack of production against the Bruins, something assistant coach Tim Hunter feels is understandable.

“He wanted to make everything right for the organization that made the deal to get him, as big a deal as it was, and he pressed a little bit (last year),” Hunter said. “Hopefully, that won’t be the case (Thursday).”

There are certain things you can count on going down Thursday. Kessel will be booed and heckled ad nauseum by the Bruins crowd. He will, at times, again try to do too much. And, should Tyler Seguin outpoint Kessel on Thursday, some Leafs fans will say: “We lost the trade.”

Not now. Not yet. Not with the way Kessel has played since first tugging on his blue-and-white jersey.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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