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McDermott: Will Phil Kessel be a first-time MVP?

A more defensive-minded Phil Kessel is seeing results at both ends of the ice.

With the resurgence of the Pittsburgh Penguins in full bloom from their fall malaise, is it impossible to make a case for Phil Kessel to be in the conversation for the Hart Trophy as the NHL MVP?

Not at all.

Phil Kessel is a third liner, at times you say?

Oh, okay, he is also second in the entire league in points and is just one point away from catching Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot. His new-found commitment to be a 200-foot player at all times (not just the post-season) is paying off in spades.

His backchecking and being harder in the corners on the puck is leading to transitions the other way and generating him more assists as is his dominant work on the power play. His 41 assists thus far on the season is also his fourth highest total in his 11-year career. He is on pace to finish with 61 assists which would smash his career high of 47 set just last year.

Add to it the finishing ability he has shown with the puck.

We had seen it in flashes since his trade from Toronto, but this year it is consistent and lethal. With 24 goals so far and a projected finish of 36, it would see him end up one shy of his career high which he achieved with the Toronto Maple Leafs on two occasions (2011-12, and 2013-14 seasons) and blow away his Penguins high of 26 in 2015-16.

Phil’s best month of the ear, so far came in one of the team’s worst.

His seven goals and 12 assists in November kept the Penguins from bottoming out completely and came at a time when production from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were not producing at all.

He carried Pittsburgh in games against lowly opponents at home like Arizona on Nov. 7, when he had a goal and two assists in a 3-1 win. Or his four-point effort (2G, 2A) against the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning on the 25th of that month.

81 showed up large that game, and all year. Photo Creds: NHL.com

Another argument is that his stats inflate because of how good he is on the power play.

OK, so then we have to throw out most of the winners if that is the case.

Guys such as Crosby, Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid don’t ride the pine when the opposing team goes to the box, now do they?

So Kessel’s 33 powerplay points should not be held against him, but rather held high much like the guys mentioned above. Being the top point-getter on the league’s top unit isn’t a bad resume builder, at all.

One thing that could be working against Phil the Thrill, well actually two, come from his own dressing room: Crosby and Malkin.

Quite simply, the duo of Sid and Geno have woken up in a major way. Malkin sits four points off of the league lead himself with 62 and he also is just two behind fellow Russian, Alex Ovechkin, for the league lead in goals. Malkin has had one of the best stretches of his career as well this season despite the slow start.

Add to it now, Crosby has 60 points and all three of the Penguins could make a case by the end of the season. Even with Crosby going through a nine-game scoring slump, he continues to rack up multiple assists seemingly every night and dominate the flow of the game.

Should Pittsburgh win the Metro Division and finish in the top two or three out of the East, voters may have a tough time picking which Penguin they fancy. The canceling out of votes because of it would absolutely hurt them all and assure a Kucherov or Ovechkin crown. Even McDavid could make a case despite the Oilers having an awful season.

Should all three Penguins stay healthy, could they finish first, second, and third in the points race??

In the 1995-96 season, three Pens finished in the top four as Mario Lemieux (161), Ron Francis (119) and some guy named Jagr (149) came close.

If this three-headed monster stays on its course not only will it make for an interesting debate, (it’s ok to like all of them, Pittsburgh, let’s not turn this into last year’s Matt Murray/Marc-Andre Fleury fun), but it will also see the Penguins continue on their tear and could land them a third consecutive Stanley Cup.

Vote now at our Twitter page on who is your MVP thus far, and thanks for reading!

The post McDermott: Will Phil Kessel be a first-time MVP? appeared first on Pittsburgh Sports Castle.



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