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Leafs Gain Unique Player In Kessel

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Photo Gallery | Leafs Obtain Kessel | Kessel Meets The Media


Video: Kessel Introduced | Kessel Highlights | Burke On Trade Leafs Lunch with BurkePeople ask all the time what hockey players are like. The answer, of course, is that they are like any other athletic multimillionaire.

I don’t think Phil Kessel is like anyone else.

For one thing, he’s faster than anyone else. He has always been.


“At a young age, I was a fast hockey player. I prided myself on my speed and scoring ability,” he said Saturday while being introduced to the media.

There is about him a slight sense of detachment. It’s just his way. He rejects the label of ‘shy’.

Still, you need to inch your tape recorder closer pick up his answers.

Upon first meeting, he is not unfriendly, nor haughty, condescending or boastful. He is not particularly polished. Nor does he seem duplicitous.

It’s very easy to list what he isn’t. Only one word works to describe what he is.

Young.

Just 21, Phil Kessel has survived one of the most well-chronicled bouts of testicular cancer in sports history. He has scored 36 goals in his third NHL season, a good many of which you can find on YouTube. He has seen the only team he has ever played for devote their resources to signing other players.

And now he has been traded.

“I’m not shy. I wouldn’t say I was shy, just quiet,” he said. “If someone talks to me I am more than happy to talk to them.”

One of the NHL’s best young players, Kessel comes to the Leafs at just 21 years of age. He will be 22 when his surgically repaired shoulder allows him to play in mid-November.

You have to look a long way to find a similar trade. The Bruins opted to allocate their money away from Kessel which prompted a protracted contract squabble which in turn led to the Leafs acquisition of a player with an upside like few others.

The price - two first rounders and a second - the circumstances -how could the Bruins allocate the money necessary to sign one of the game’s most eye-catching talents - everything about this story feels unlike most any other deal.

Suddenly, much of the Leafs future hinges on the style, personality, commitment and talents of Phil Kessel.

That Burke was willing to make this enormous gamble speaks to his confidence that this year’s team has been improved substantially.

Essentially, he is betting that the Leafs are a playoff team that hasn’t yet played any games.

“Our goal is to make the playoffs,” Burke said. “I felt at the time we had enough manpower to do that. Does this put us ahead in the race? Absolutely. “

Burke insists that Kessel the player and Kessel the person are of a comparable quality.

“We think that 36 goals is really a platform, not a peak in terms of what he can do. He was dramatically better last year.

“He has dealt with some personal adversity. I have watched his growth as a young man from a real shy kid to a guy who is much more outgoing and more comfortable with his role as a professional athlete.”

“When I talked to Phil last night he said: ‘I intend to earn every penny and I won’t let you down.”

If things go well, Phil Kessel will grow up in Toronto. His five-year deal will take him to manhood, and, Burke is counting on stardom. Another Boston star, John F. Kennedy once said “a rising tide raises all ships.”

Phil Kessel says he is ready.

“My shoulder is doing well. I started skating about a week ago, shooting pucks. I have some checking to do with the doctor and hopefully I will be ready to go.”

He is sure he has found a home. The issue of media attention, he said, is overblown. All l you have to do is answer questions and do your job.

The Bruins were the third item on the sports pages on a good day. Kessel is ready to find his way where the game matters most.

“I chose Minnesota for college hockey because in Minnesota they love hockey,” he said.

“The number one sport in Toronto is hockey. I wanted to be a part of that.”



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