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Kessel friendship with Tocchet to take 'back seat' for Coyotes

Forward expects coach to yell at him in hopes of making Arizona Cup contender

by Alan Robinson / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Phil Kessel knows his bond with Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet will be secondary when they open training camp next week.

The 31-year-old forward won the Stanley Cup twice with the Pittsburgh Penguins (2016, 2017), during which time Tocchet was an assistant coach. They were reunited when Kessel was traded to the Coyotes, along with defenseman prospect Dane Birks and a fourth-round draft pick in 2021, for forward Alex Galchenyuk and defenseman prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph on June 29.

"We're great friends and we get along great, but there's a business side here and I think our friendship takes a back seat (because of) what we want to accomplish," Kessel said at his introductory press conference Tuesday. "Obviously, there's going to be times he's mad at me and going to yell at me, I'm just going to have to take that, respect that because we want to win."

 

[RELATED: Kessel ready to take leadership role with Coyotes]

 

Tocchet nearly led the Coyotes to a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season despite injuries to key players, including goalie Antti Raanta and defenseman Jakob Chychrun. Arizona (39-35-8) finished four points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card from the Western Conference.

"My time in Pittsburgh was coming to an end, and I felt that. … (Now), this team is starting to gel (under Tocchet)," Kessel said. "They've gotten faster, they play a good two-way game. I think I can help more on the offensive end, in tight games. If you need a goal here or there or on the power play, hopefully I can get one."

Kessel was surrounded by big stars in Pittsburgh. Now that he's with the Coyotes, he finds himself as the biggest name in the dressing room, the player with the stats and the resume of success. A six-time 30-goal scorer, Kessel has 823 points (357 goals, 466 assists) in 996 regular-season games and 77 points (33 goals, 44 assists) in 87 playoff games with the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Penguins.

Video: Phil Kessel on joining the Coyotes, expectations

Despite being without Pittsburgh forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel, Kessel said he believes he can continue to be a productive offensive player under Tocchet in Arizona.

"You want to almost prove to people that you want to be better than you were in the past," Kessel said. "I want to make this team into a playoff team. I have that in my gut to try to make that happen. Obviously, I want to be able to do whatever I can to make that happen.

"I think I can fit well and help this team get to the next level. I've been around the League a long time now, and I think I can fit in here and help the young guys grow as players and help them take the next step to make this team into a contender - take this team where we want to be."

Tweet from @ArizonaCoyotes: And now, a message from the man himself, @PKessel81. #KachinaKessel pic.twitter.com/DqtNoM9gxM

Coyotes general manager John Chayka said he couldn't help but notice the buzz around his team since it acquired Kessel.

"Phil's a guy that's been playing the big games and he's played on the big stage. A big part of us acquiring him and was knowing we're getting that guy and those big moments," Chayka said. "He's had a lot of success. We're trying to embrace those expectations and some of that buzz.

"Talking to him, he's very motivated and he wants to show people that he's here to win."

Photo courtesy of Norm Hall/Arizona Coyotes

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