BOSTON - It seems like so long ago that Phil Kessel was a member of the Bruins that it was a different lifetime.
Kessel has been in Toronto for nearly twice as long as he was in Boston, and has averaged 33 goals in every full season since the deal that sent first-round picks to the Bruins that turned into Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton.
It’s difficult to have too much regret about the Kessel deal for a number of reasons, including Kessel's tense relationship with Bruins coach Claude Julien. Kessel didn’t want to be in Boston anymore at the end of his entry level contract.
Still, it’s been fascinating to watch the way Kessel has developed in his hockey prime, and become the playoff performer he’s proven to be with 13 goals and 21 points in 22 career playoff games – including four goals against the Bruins in a first-round series with the infamous Game 7 ending. Building on that gritty, impressive and productive playoff appearance with Toronto, Kessel is off to the best start of his career, with 10 goals and 19 points in 16 games.
He’s up there with Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead in points and goals, and his former Bruins coach gives him plenty of credit.
Did Julien see anything about Kessel’s game in the playoffs that was different radically from his previous, well-documented struggles against Zdeno Chara and the B’s in the regular season?
“Phil is a good player, just like a lot of players that move around in this league,” said Julien. “He’s just getting better with age. It’s called experience, it’s called maturity and it’s called confidence. He’s got great speed, and he’s got a great release.
“He came out determined to show people that he was a good playoff player, and he did that. So kudos to him...He was a good player for them.”
One would expect Kessel will also be a good player for the Maple Leafs on Saturday night at TD Garden when they look for a little payback against "Phil the Thrill’s" former team.