Phil Kessel took the ice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex for his first official practice as a Penguin when training camp opened on Friday, and he was thrilled to finally get going with his new team.
“It feels great,” said Kessel, who was traded to Pittsburgh from Toronto on July 1. “Obviously it was a good first day out there, I got some work in. Just ready to go this year.”
While Kessel did line rushes with Matt Cullen and Conor Sheary this morning, head coach Mike Johnston said that he’ll start the preseason alongside Sidney Crosby – who spoke about the superstar winger from two stalls down in the Pens locker room.
“I think he does a lot of things well,” Crosby said of Kessel. “His speed and his shot stick out the most. I think that even his playmaking ability is probably underrated. But guys who can score like he can, they don’t come around often. To have him on your team, to know he’s one chance away anywhere in the offensive zone, it’s nice to have that.”
Kessel hasn’t had much of an opportunity to get to know Crosby yet, but it’s only the first day of a lengthy preseason, so there’s plenty of time for that.
“We haven’t talked a ton yet,” Kessel said. “We’re just getting used to each other, used to the guys. We’ll see how it goes, though.”
While those two will definitely be together next week, Crosby noted that Kessel will likely see time with Evgeni Malkin as well at some point. But regardless of who Kessel plays with, Patric Hornqvist is sure that it’s going to work out just fine.
“Who cares (who Kessel’s linemate is)? He’s a great player and ‘Geno’ and ‘Sid,’ they’re probably the two best centermen in the world,” Hornqvist said. “He scores 30 goals every season he plays. Last year, we didn’t score a lot of goals, so that will be a good fit for us. He hasn’t played with any centers like Geno or Sid either, so it’s going to be a good season for him.”
That’s what Kessel’s hoping.
“You get to play with the best players in the world. That is a great opportunity for myself and I’m going to try and take full advantage of it and can hopefully have a great season,” Kessel said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
Hornqvist knows better than anyone what it’s like to try to get acquainted with Crosby and Malkin, as he saw time with both of them last season after being acquired from Nashville in the 2014 offseason. Hornqvist feels that Kessel has been around long enough to know what those two centers bring and has the talent to figure out how to complement them.
“I think he knows what they’re like,” Hornqvist said. “Sid is a little more of a straight-line guy, he likes to take it to the net. Geno is a little more pull up, hold onto the puck and try to find those small little plays around the net. So they’re both great and he’s going to have fun here.”
And so far, Kessel has. Everyone in the organization has been doing their part to make the 27-year-old Wisconsin native feel welcome, including owner Mario Lemieux – who joined the superstar winger in a foursome at the Pens’ annual Summer Sticks Golf Classic on Tuesday.
“I was a little nervous there, on the first tee I duffed a ball playing with him,” Kessel said with a laugh. “It was a fun day and obviously he’s a great guy and he’s one of the best players in the game. The people here have been unbelievable to me. We’ve got a world-class facility, world-class staff and I’m thrilled to be here.”