OTTAWA It might have been a bit surprising Team Chara captain Zdeno Chara okayed the All-Star draft selection of Phil Kessel for the weekends All-Star events at Scotiabank Place. It was Joffrey Lupuls pick, to be sure, but Chara signed off on a player that memorably bolted out of Boston three years ago.
But it clearly speaks to the ten tons of water now under the bridge when it comes to the messy divorce between Kessel and the Bruins. Kessel, the natural born goal-scorer, crafted an escape route to Toronto and hes been looked at as a weasely villain ever since.
Its been three long years since Kessel left Boston for bluer pastures with the Maple Leafs, and both sides have clearly moved on.
The ultimate closure arrived for the Bruins when they captured the Stanley Cup last spring. The rapid development of Tyler Seguin into an All-Star is the cherry on top of the sundae.
With that in mind it was interesting to hear Bruins coach Claude Julien who will coach Kessel for the first time Sunday since his departure from Boston reveal a conversation he enjoyed with Kessel following the All-Star Draft Thursday night.
Julien and Kessel clashed often during his three seasons with the Bruins and on a myriad of subjects: Kessel would routinely get challenged for not working hard enough in the weight room and for his stubborn choice in hockey sticks. Kessel, on the other hand, never really forgave Julien for benching him during the first round playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens during his second season in the league.
The friction between Kessel and Julien was widely believed a big factor in Kessels forced exit to the Maple Leafs, but it appears thats been smoothed over with an All-Star chat that was a long time coming.
The years go by and its always nice to see those guys again. I had a really good conversation with Phil yesterday. Hes obviously excited and loves where he is, said Julien. Thats what its all about. We obviously lost a good player, but it was a trade that had to be made. In return we got a couple of good players, so it worked out for both sides.
Kessel is never going to truly open his veins to the media about anything never mind a heart-to-heart with his former coach, but even No. 81 admitted he looks back on his experience in Boston with a much different lens these days. Hes a two-time All-Star and one of the most dangerous scorers in the league, and he knows the Bs coaching staff was trying to make him a better player.
Much like a grown-up child that eventually realizes why their parents were hard on them long after the fact, Kessel understands what happened in Boston was part of his development. How much does Kessel think hes matured since he left Boston?
Quite a bit. I meanthat was three years ago now, right? I was still pretty young. I was just getting used to the league back in the day. I think you take every lesson that you learn in the league and get better as a player and a person, said Kessel. When we were there he tried to make me a better hockey player.
I have a lot of respect for what hes done. Hes a good coach and a good guy. I understand some of the things Julien did now. When I was there I was young. I wanted to play and help.
Is Kessel going to enjoy playing with Julien behind the bench again?
Itll be fineyeah, said Kessel. I played with him for a couple of years and he taught me a lot about the game. Hes obviously a good coach. Its nice for him to get recognized here because hes done great in Boston. Its a good thing for him.
It sounds like at 24 years old with a potential 40-goal season and playoff berth in his future, Kessel is finally starting to get it as an NHL player.