Former NHL coach Ron Wilson predicts a big season ahead for Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Phil Kessel, no matter who centers his line in 2015-16.
In fact, Wilson said Kessel could establish a career high with 40 goals his first season in Pittsburgh.
He should know. Wilson coached Kessel for parts of three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs when the 27-year-old had three of his five 30-goal seasons.
Wilson, who will coach the United States at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Finland, recently talked about Kessel with NHL.com. After he scored 37 goals and had 80 points in 82 games with the Maple Leafs in 2013-14, Kessel had 25 goals and 61 points in 82 games in 2014-15.
"Pittsburgh is building a team that wants to win the Stanley Cup now, and I think Phil is only going to add to their success, so I expect him to score at least 40 goals this year and be a dominant player again," Wilson said.
A big topic of discussion this offseason has been whether Penguins coach Mike Johnston will prefer Kessel to skate alongside Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby.
"Phil will do just fine [in Pittsburgh]," Wilson said. "Whether he plays with Malkin or Sid, he's got a center iceman who can get him the puck and do things on his own. In Toronto he didn't quite have that."
Kessel, traded to the Penguins by the Maple Leafs on July 1, has scored 181 goals over the past six seasons.