SAN JOSE — Phil Kessel does not think his 2010-11 season is as troubled as some have made it out to be and the National Hockey League agrees.
Kessel rolled out of bed here on Tuesday to discover he’s the Maple Leafs’ lone representative for the all-star game on Jan. 30 in Raleigh, N.C.
He’s a bit of a surprise choice given all three members of the first line, Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin had the same or more points than Kessel’s 30 before Tuesday’s game and all have out-played him. But Kessel is on fire of late and was Toronto’s leading scorer with 18 goals on Tuesday morning when NHL hockey operations made its final picks.
“It’s been hot and cold, but it’s not terrible right,” Kessel said of his season, the second straight where his progress is constantly measured against the expensive deal the Leafs made with Boston to acquire him.
“I’ve been scoring lately, but a lot of guys on our team have been. You don’t get here without your teammates. A lot of guys on our team are having big years and deserve this, too.”
Kessel had seven goals in the Leafs’ first eight games, went south with a pair of 0-for-7 slumps, then had two in eight, but bagged four in three during the club’s three-game winning streak to Tuesday.
“You stick with what you know,” said Kessel, who now has 114 goals in 333 games NHL games, 48 in 111 as a Leaf. “Goals will come in bunches if you keep getting chances.
“I didn’t even know (he was picked). I just woke up to a couple of texts — ‘congrats, you’re in the all-star game’. ”
Kessel is the first Leafs forward to be invited since Mats Sundin and Gary Roberts combined for four points in the 2004 game. The 2004-05 work stoppage, two Olympic years and three straight appearances by defenceman Tomas Kaberle came between.
Kessel was in the Young Stars game his rookie year with the Bruins, but looks forward to seeing his fellow nominees and ex-Boston mates Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas.
Two San Jose Sharks were selected for the game, defenceman Dan Boyle and forward Logan Couture, who will be in the Young Stars skills competition. Kessel and Boyle and all nominees will be be chosen by team captains in a new twist to picking the all-star sides.
“That draft seems to be the talk of the game — who is going to go last?,” Boyle said. “That’s fun for fans and media.”
“I don’t think it really matters,” Kessel added. “Someone has to get picked last. What are you going to do? It’s going to be a lot of fun.”