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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
If goals are what you need, look no further than Phil Kessel.

Regarded by many – including Red Line Report – as the best pure goal-scoring prospect available at the NHL Entry Draft, Kessel is just one of many talented players expected to go in the top five picks.

At 6-foot and 189 pounds, Kessel appears to be the ideal player for the new NHL, which is built around speed and skill. He can’t wait to take advantage of those traits in NHL arenas.

“I like it out there,” he said. “Speed is my game and you can use it a lot in the NHL and I think it’s great.”

Listed as a center, Kessel won’t mind shifting to wing once he is selected at the NHL Entry Draft on June 24 at General Motors Place in Vancouver. The event will be televised at 6 p.m. on OLN in the United States. The Penguins own the second-overall pick.

“I played wing before. My regular position is center, but I can play either wing,” he said. “I’ll just try to work my best.”

Kessel, who is Red Line Report’s second-rated prospect, was the second-rated prospect in the NHL’s Central Scouting Service’s mid-term rankings. However, he slipped to No. 5 in the final rankings.

“I’m not concerned at all. I don’t even think about it,” he said. “If it happens, it happens. There’s nothing I can do about it.”

Kessel’s play should not have hurt his ranking. Playing for Team USA, he was the leading scorer at the World Junior Championships. He had one goal and 10 assists in seven games, which was better than Penguins prospect Evgeni Malkin, who had 10 points (4+6) in just six games, and Finland’s Lauri Tukonen, who had 10 points (3+7) in seven games.

Kessel continued his strong play for the University of Minnesota. Only a freshman, he ranked first among NCAA rookies and second on the team in scoring with 51 points (18+33). He had a team second-best 14 multi-point games and two multi-goal games. He racked up a point in 28 of 39 games and the Golden Gophers were 19-4-5 when he tallied a point. He had seven games with three or more points and assisted on five game-winning goals.

He parlayed that into 2005-06 WCHA Rookie of the Year and WCHA All-Rookie Team honors and he was named the USCHO Co-Rookie of the Year with Michigan State goaltender Jeff Lerg.

With Kessel, the nation’s top recruit, Minnesota was a favorite to win an NCAA championship. The Golden Gophers cruised to the WCHA championship. However, they were shocked by Holy Cross, 4-3, in overtime at the West Regional in what many consider one of the biggest upsets in college hockey history.

That loss has Kessel motivated to get the Golden Gophers a championship next season.

“Of course. You never want to get upset in a game like that. We just didn’t play well and I guess that’s how it goes. I am planning on going back for another year. We’ll see what happens, though.”

Kessel played alongside Penguins draft choices Andy Sertich and Alex Goligoski at Minnesota.

“They are both great guys on and off the ice,” he said. “I had a lot of fun with them last year.”

The Golden Gophers will get a boost in the fall with an impressive recruiting class featuring Erik Johnson, the top-rated draft prospect, as well as Kyle Okposo, another top prospect.

The honors continued for Kessel. He was selected to play for Team USA at the World Championships in May. He had one goal and one assist in seven games in Latvia. Kessel skated alongside Penguins Ryan Malone, Andy Hilbert and Brooks Orpik with Team USA.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “They are great players and they treated me real well over there and I just had a lot of fun with them over there.”

Central Scouting report on Phil Kessel: Is a very fast and quick skater who often surprises opponents with an extra gear…with outstanding breakaway speed, he can carry the puck and separate himself from pursuers in an instant and can turn an opponent inside out one-on-one…has a heavy and accurate shot and very quick hands when releasing his wrist shot at top speed…can beat a goaltender many ways and is an excellent passer and playmaker who can find his man in traffic or open ice with ease…has the ability to go end-to-end and bring the fans to the edge of their seats…is excellent on the power-play and a threat to score when killing penalties…is good on face-offs and capable of using his offensive instincts to determine the outcome of a game…he wants the puck when the game is on the line and, while not overly physical, he does not shy away from the corners and along the boards…protects the puck well with his body and has strong persistent pursuit of the puck…has become more reliable in his defensive play this season…became USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program all-time leader in career goals with 104 and points with 180 in the 2004-05 season…has played on two U.S. World Junior teams and in 2005-06 was selected the rookie of the year in the WCHA and was selected to the all-rookie team while playing for the U. of Minnesota.

Personal Profile: Nickname is Thrill…favorite NHL player is Colorado’s Joe Sakic…wears No. 26 because No. 8 is retired…says that his parents have had the greatest influence on his career because “they have taken me to all of my hockey events when I was younger”…most memorable hockey game played was the Under-18 game vs. Czech Republic…favorite TV show is Friends…favorite movies are Rounders and Boondock Saints…favorite musician is Tim McGraw.


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