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THN.com Blog: Speed kills for Toronto's Phil Kessel

Phil Kessel has seven goals and nine points through eight games. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Phil Kessel has seven goals and nine points through eight games. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

There’s being fast and then there’s being fast when you’re at the tail end of a shift that had you running around your own zone because your team is completely hemmed in.

Phil Kessel’s speed is the second kind mentioned above, something he proved with a goal in the dwindling moments of Tuesday night’s win over Florida.

It’s one thing to be everything Kessel was on that play – specifically, faster than everybody in the rink – but to be that at a time when, as enthusiastic analyst Pierre McGuire would say, you’re suckin’ dirty pond water, is quite another.

Kessel is also at that point where deception isn’t even a necessary element in scoring. THN.com blogger Justin Bourne was writing about this the other day; the fact that just because a goalie knows what a shooter is going to do doesn’t necessarily mean he can do anything about it. Right now, Kessel could Babe Ruth every low shot he takes to the far corner and puckstoppers would still be picking it out of the back of the net.

His snapshot is as good as you’ll find in the game.

Some goal-scorers are like a winding mountain roadway, weaving in and out of the rock before reaching the final destination. Kessel is a mix between a German autobahn and Prairie highway - straight ahead and no speed limit.

Kessel will forever be linked with the fact it cost the Leafs two first-rounders to acquire him from Boston, especially after one of those picks already turned into Tyler Seguin, the No. 2 selection last June.

With the freakishly well-rounded kids who get drafted in the top three slots these days, I have to believe most teams would still rather take their chances on one of those selections than having Kessel – the No. 5 pick in 2006 – in the lineup. That’s because the very top end of the draft is where you get guys like Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty and Jonathan Toews; the kind of lynchpin players championship teams are built with.

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Even Kessel’s most staunch supporters would concede he’s not a front man, but rather a supremely skilled guy who, ideally, would ride shotgun beside a more multi-dimensional threat.

But let’s not mince words; Kessel’s talent is that of a first overall player. That’s why, once upon a time, people whispered that if he and Sidney Crosby were in the same draft year, there’d be an actual decision to be made for the team picking at the top. Turns out that debate had the staying power of the Kansas City Scouts, but that doesn’t take away from Kessel’s undeniable talent.

Even playing on a team that’s, to put it gently, still searching for its offensive identity, Kessel has it in him to notch 50 goals this year. And for those Leafs fans worried I just put the hex on him, don’t sweat it because, as we’ve learned, when it comes to Kessel, even when you see it coming, you’re often powerless to stop it.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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