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Phil Kessel: 900 … and Counting

Offense, endurance exemplified Kessel's bounce-back season

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

As the off-season commences, General Manager Bill Armstrong and a number of Coyotes players held exit interviews Monday to review the 2020-21 season, discuss summer plans, and look ahead. 

Season Summaries: Bill Armstrong | Conor Garland | Michael Bunting | Jakob Chychrun | Darcy Kuemper

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Phil Kessel felt he returned to true form in 2020-21.

Kessel performed impressively in response to a disappointing -- for him -- 2019-20 season. 

He finished as the Coyotes' leading scorer, with 43 points. Kessel scored a team-high 20 goals and achieved the 20-goal mark for the 12th time in his illustrious NHL career.

When he wasn't scoring, he was generating opportunities for his teammates. Kessel finished tied for second in assists with 23.

Among those assists was the 500th of his career, recorded March 20 in the Coyotes' 5-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks.

"(This milestone) means I've played with a lot of good players in my career," Kessel said. "When you look back, and you reflect on your career -- team achievements and individual achievements -- it means I did pretty good, I think. Hopefully I can get a bunch more (assists)." 

The No. 500 assist wasn't Kessel's only major milestone. He also recorded his 900th point when he scored a breakaway goal - the game-winning goal - on May 7, in a 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks. 

Video: ARI@SJS: Kessel scores on breakaway for 900th point

"It took a lot of games to do it," Kessel said. "I've played a lot of games to get there. I've been fortunate in my career and I've been very lucky." 

Kessel celebrated the No. 900 in the next game, too, the Coyotes' regular-season finale on May 8, when he played in his 900th consecutive game. His consecutive games-played streak is the third-longest active stretch in the league, behind only Patrick Marleau (910) and Keith Yandle (922).

In addition, Kessel was nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, annually awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.

"I feel good again," Kessel said. "And I feel like I can play for a while longer." 

The following Q&A is from Kessel's exit-day media interviews: 

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What do you think worked well for the team this year? 

We played well in spurts; we did some good things here and there. But this game is so tight, right? If you make mistakes, if you don't play your best for a period, or even a five-to-10-minute stretch, the game goes sideways on you. I think we had a decent amount of those instances this year. It's a hard league to win in. There's only one winner every year, and each game is tough every night.

How would you describe your experience this season? 

I think it was a challenging year for everyone. We were testing (for COVID-19) every day -- even on off-days, we were always coming in. The compressed schedule … going on the road for a couple weeks at a time. It was a strange year and I think everyone is going to need a break from this and come back stronger, wherever anyone is next year. 

What was your reaction to Rick Tocchet's departure? 

Obviously, when your coach gets fired it's not a good thing. He's a good friend of mine. I think he's a great coach and a great person. It's a part of the business, but I love him. I think he did a great job here. He's a great person.

You have been nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. How do you feel about that? 

I had a bad season last year. I was injured at times, and I think I was just off. I tried to train hard and work hard last summer to get back to who I was, and you know, I had an okay year (this year) and hopefully I have better years coming up.

You also won the award in 2006-07.

Yeah, that was a long time ago. But it was a great experience for me. I went through a tough time. I came out stronger from that. I learned a lot about myself, and I think it made me the person I am today. 

What does it mean to be recognized for perseverance?

Whenever you get recognized for anything, it's a good thing. When people are noticing you, it can never be a bad thing.

Photo Credits: Kelsey Grant - Arizona Coyotes

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