Phil Kessel once again proving to be a key playoff performer

Pittsburgh Penguins right-winger Phil Kessel is proving that last season’s excellent playoff performance definitely wasn’t a fluke. Kessel arguably should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy last campaign after leading his team in playoff scoring race with 10 goals and 12 assists in 24 games and guiding the Penguins to the Stanley Cup. He’s at it again this season with five goals and eight assists in his first 10 postseason contests to rank third in league scoring. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise since Kessel has now posted 56 points in his first 56 career playoff outings with 28 goals and 28 assists.

Kessel earned the ridiculous and undeserved reputation of being a coach killer while being the Toronto Maple Leafs best player for six seasons, but Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said nothing could be further from the truth. Sullivan said Kessel is able to lift the level of his game once the playoffs arrive, but also does an excellent gob for the team in the regular campaign. Kessel scored 26 goals and 59 points for Pittsburgh last season in his first year for the club and improved to 23 goals and 70 points in 2016/17. While he may not be scoring at a 30-goal pace in Pittsburgh, Kessel’s an extremely underrated passer and playmaker and was tied for 10th in the league in assists this season.   

There are currently just two active players who have scored points at a better pace in the playoffs in their career over a minimum of 40 game. These are Kessel’s Pittsburgh teammates and future Hall of Famers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. And when it comes to goals per game in the playoffs, the 29-year-old Kessel ranks second in active players behind forward Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues. But unlike Crosby and Malkin, Kessel produces more points-per game in the playoffs than he does during regular seasons while those two players see their totals drop slightly.

Kessel’s no slouch in regular-season play though as he’s scored 296 goals along with 649 points in 832 games. He averages .78 points per game and .36 goals per game, but raises that number to one point and .50 goals per outing in the playoffs. Kessel has always been a clutch postseason performer no matter which team he suited up for. He scored three goals and for points in four games for Boston against Montreal back in 2007/08 in his playoff debut ad then added six goals and 11 points in 11 games for the Bruins the following year.

Kessel even managed to produce for a weak Leafs team in his one playoff venture with Toronto by scoring four goals and six points in seven games against Boston in 2012/13. The Penguins have already reaped the rewards by acquiring Kessel from Toronto. They have a Stanley Cup championship under their belt with the skilled right-winger in the lineup and coach Sullivan said he’s no longer surprised at Kessel’s outstanding play. Pittsburgh currently have their hands full with the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but there’s a good chance Kessel could win his second straight Stanley Cup this season to forever silence his critics.