|Kessy, at the Young Stars Tournament, upends a Canucks prospect. Photo Provided.
Kale Kessy has a mean grip.
Shake the 21-year-old’s hand and you can see the strength a good summer of training has given him. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound winger has always been a bigger, stronger kid. During the 2011-12 season in the WHL with Medicine Hat, Kessy recorded 151 penalty minutes in 49 games. His toughness was on display in his first professional season last year as well (88 penalty minutes in 54 games, eight fights in the American Hockey League).
We’ve established that Kessy is a tough guy. But his two fights at the Young Stars Tournament were just part of what impressed Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish.
“Kessy definitely played well, did what he needed to do and showed a willingness to be a physical factor,” MacTavish said following the rookie tournament in Penticton, B.C. earlier this month. “He made a lot more plays than he did last year, which he needed to do. He’s really come a long ways in a year.”
It all comes back to the summer that was for Kessy. During his exit interview with the staff in Oklahoma City at the end of last season, Barons Head Coach Todd Nelson told Kessy, “you have to put in a good summer so you get quicker and you’re playing with confidence. You’ve got to make sure that when you’re playing out there, the play doesn’t die with you and that’s what happened last year.”
Kessy took that advice to heart.
“I just tried to work hard in the summer. I was up here in the summer working on my skating, my fitness and stuff like that. I’ve just got to play hard, get pucks in, get pucks out and finish my checks. I’ve just got to continue to improve my quickness and my skating always. That can always improve but I think I’ve gotten a little bit better,” Kessy said.
Nelson saw that Kessy took the advice of the Oilers organization and has seen a change in the former fourth-round pick (111th overall in 2011 by the Phoenix Coyotes, acquired by the Oilers in a trade for Tobias Rieder on March 29, 2013).
|Kessy battles with a Canucks prospect at the Young Stars Tournament. Photo Provided. |
“You’ve got to give him credit,” Nelson said. “He worked extremely hard over the summer, he paid the price and now it’s paying dividends on the ice. I think that’s the biggest thing. He learned how to be a pro. He took care of himself, he trained extremely hard, he’s in better shape so he’s quicker on the ice. When you’re in better shape you play with more confidence and that’s what we’re seeing with him.”
Kessy skated for the Oilers in their pre-season game in Winnipeg on Wednesday night. On the fourth line with Tyler Pitlick and Travis Ewanyk, Kessy stuck with his game, being physical and keeping things simple.
“I thought it went fairly well for the first exhibition game,” Kessy said. “I thought we all worked hard, just tried to get pucks deep and just finish our checks. Just keep it simple out there, that’s all we tried to do.”
The fourth line earned praise from Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins and players around the locker room after the 3-2 win over the Jets. In particular, one shift by that trio changed the tide of the game, with the Oilers down 2-0. Kessy and the other two forwards not only provided a physical boost on that shift, but they were able to get offensive zone time, which the team was struggling to create at the start.
“That line of Kessy, Pitlick and Ewanyk had a big shift for us,” Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said after the game.
The fourth line got the Oilers bench chirping and energized the rest of the team, according to Eakins. That’s what players like Kessy have to bring. It’s something he had to learn after last season.
“He was more anxious to play, to contribute and he was just trying to figure out which way he could,” Nelson said. “I think this year we signs of maturity with him, with the one year under his belt. And the confidence with his training and how well he took care of himself gives him tremendous confidence going into this season.”
After hearing the praise so far this off-season, and in particular from MacTavish, Kessy is pleased but not satisfied.
“It’s definitely encouraging,” Kessy admits. But he says he has to continue to bring it, and step it up another level here in main camp.
“All of the guys are stronger, they’re definitely faster. They know how to play and they slow the game down. You’ve just got to take it game by game and I can’t worry about the past now.”
As Kessy continues to show he’s a better player now than he was a year ago, his aspirations for camp are simple. Kessy just wants to soak in information and translate that to his own performance.
“Definitely experience,” he said. “There are a lot of great players in the locker room and I’ll see how they play and stuff like that. At the same time, they are a lot of skilled guys. I’ve just got to play my game. I’ve got to be mean, get pucks in, get pucks out, finish my checks, be physical in front of the net and make it hard for the D and goalie to see the puck.”
After a summer of hard work, Kessy is off to a good start to his sophomore professional season.