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Toews, Kessel receiving brotherly support

by Brian Compton /

New York Islanders' prospect David Toews is the younger brother of Chicago Blackhawks' captain Jonathan Toews.
Reaching the NHL isn't exactly easy, so it's always nice when you have someone in the family to lean on for advice and support.

Two prospects in the New York Islanders' system fit that mold. And boy, do they ever have talented brothers to turn to when they need them.

With a plethora of picks in the 2008 Entry Draft, the Isles are hoping they hit a home run in the third round. Not only did they take highly touted Russian forward Kirill Petrov, but they also selected David Toews at No. 66.

Does that last name sound familiar? It should. David is the younger brother of Jonathan Toews, who at 20, was recently named captain of the Chicago Blackhawks. The young center has risen to stardom quickly in the Windy City after being the third selection in the 2006 draft. In his first season with the Blackhawks, Jonathan had 24 goals and 30 assists in just 64 games.

David, who is also a center, probably won't reach the NHL as quickly. At 5-foot-10, he's three inches shorter than his older brother. Unlike Jonathan, David was drafted right out of Shattuck-St. Mary's High School. Jonathan played his freshman season at the University of North Dakota before being drafted.

Nonetheless, David continues to follow in his brother's footsteps. The younger Toews -- who had 44 goals and 100 points in just 51 games for Shattuck -- also will attend the University of North Dakota this fall. While he has big skates to fill, David is eagerly anticipating his first season of college hockey.

"I'm really excited," David told "I'm moving on and feeling really good about it. I'm looking forward to next year at North Dakota. Everything my brother told me about that place sounds phenomenal. I've been there a few times, and it's an unbelievable place. I'm really happy to be going there."

David Toews isn't the only Islanders prospect who has an older brother currently playing in the NHL. Defenseman Blake Kessel, who was taken in the sixth round of the 2007 draft, is the younger brother of Boston Bruins forward Phil Kessel. The elder Kessel was taken at No. 5 by the Bruins in 2006 and had 19 goals for Boston in 2007-08, his second season in the NHL.

Just like David, the younger Kessel is often compared to his brother.

"It's definitely been tough a little bit," Kessel said. "Everybody's like, 'What happened to you?' He's a special player. I love him more than anything in the world. My family means the most to me. Him and I are really close and spend every day of the summer together."

The Kessel brothers are arguably closer now more than ever, especially after what transpired in 2006. Just a few months after signing an entry-level deal with the Bruins, Phil was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He beat the disease quickly and impressively, returning to the lineup just 11 games after undergoing surgery.

"Some people say that he might have an attitude, but whoever says that doesn't even know Phil," the younger brother said. "He's one of those kids that no matter what you throw at him, he'll deal with it. He had the cancer thing a couple years ago, and he dealt with that. That was one of the hardest times for me to get past. I'm really happy with what's going on with him, and hopefully he can actually get to 20 goals this year. I gave him a little bit of a hard time for that last year."

Much like Phil, Blake is also taking the college route. The younger Kessel will attend the University of New Hampshire this fall and is primed to be a weapon from the point. Phil had 51 points in 39 games during his one season with the University of Minnesota. While there is no timetable in place for Blake as far as turning pro, the young defenseman knows he can always turn to his older brother for advice.

"It's huge for me," Kessel said. "He's been through it all. The day I got drafted, he told me to get out of the house and just don't worry about it. The way that he helped me prepare day in and day out, getting to work out with him and to skate with him, it helped me turn the corner. He's definitely one of the guys that will always be there and he'll be one of the main people responsible for my success because of how much he's worked with me."

New York Islanders prospect Blake Kessel's older brother Phil plays for the Boston Bruins. Blake will play next season with University of New Hampshire.
The Toews brothers often work together, and have certainly taken the same steps toward the NHL. While some may think David is following in Jonathan's footsteps too closely, the new Blackhawks' captain believes North Dakota is the perfect place for his younger brother to continue his development. Jonathan played at North Dakota for two years before turning pro.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with that, as far as playing with those programs," said Jonathan, who also played at Shattuck-St. Mary's. "The coaching staff is so trustworthy at North Dakota. There's no way he can go wrong there. It's a great place for him to really spend some extra time on the ice that you don't get at Shattuck. He can really improve on all the little parts of his game. He's got everything he needs there and everything he could ask for."

As for those under the impression that David is simply trying to mimic his brother, the younger Toews is ready to show that he has the ability to reach the NHL on his own. He started to make his case last month when he was drafted by the Islanders. He'll try to build off that in just a few short months when the college hockey season gets under way.

"People might think so, but me and my brother are such good friends," David said. "There's nothing that could ever come between us. Obviously, it's very competitive when we're shooting pucks in the basement or on the backyard rink. But it's not like we're jealous of each other's accomplishments. We're always there to support each other. It's a lot smaller thing than a lot of people make it out to be. Me and my brother love each other a lot. There's no competition between us at all."

Clearly, though, David is going to have to deal with comparisons to his brother for his entire career. While he's probably become used to that on a smaller scale, things are certainly going to be magnified now. Big brother admitted there are some tough times ahead.

"I don't mean to pump my own tires, but with the way things have gone, I've had a lot of things go right for me," Jonathan said. "He's had to kind of hide behind that and not get a whole lot of attention.

"(But) he's done so well. I think if he wasn't my little brother, he would have gotten a lot more attention for the things he's accomplished. I think he's been through a lot of adversity in his career. Last year, he had to deal with a couple of pretty serious injuries. He's worked so hard and he's earned every little bit of success that he's had."

The brothers nearly became teammates at the draft, as David was grabbed by the Islanders just two spots ahead of when the Blackhawks were slated to pick at No. 68. But with a lack of depth at the center position, the Isles quickly swiped Toews at No. 66 with the first of their three selections in the third round.

In the end, Jonathan believes his kid brother is in a very similar situation as far as their teams are concerned. Much like the Blackhawks, the Islanders are in the midst of a youth movement.

"I was so happy to see him get drafted, especially to New York," Jonathan said. "I think it's an organization that's similar to Chicago that's kind of on the upper swing in the rebuilding stage. He was close to coming to Chicago. I know Chicago traded up two picks behind where he got picked. I would have been pretty excited to see him come and maybe have the chance to play with me someday, but at the same time, I think he's got to go his own way and carve his own path. He's done a great job of doing that so far."

But when he takes a step back and thinks about what it may take to become a star in the NHL, David needs to look no further than his older brother. Jonathan is primed to be one of the game's elite players -- and leaders -- for years to come.

"He's always there giving me pointers," David said. "He tells me what I need to be doing to get to the next level. We work hard together, always pushing each other off the ice. I can look at him and know what I need to do to get to the next level."

It may take at least three years, but Jonathan is convinced that his younger brother will play a pivotal role on Long Island.

"I think he's a heck of a little player," the older brother said. "I think he's going to prove a lot of people wrong. I know it's his big brother talking right now, but I'm proud of him and I believe in what he can do. There's not a doubt in my mind that I'm going to be matching up against him in the near future in the NHL."

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