Phil Kessel Will Soon Become the New NHL Ironman Leader

By Neil Becker

It’s no secret among fans that NHL sharpshooter Phil Kessel isn’t exactly known for his physical fitness.

Shortly after a less than memorable performance at the 2006 NHL combine, the Madison, Wisconsin native, who possesses an elite scoring touch, was selected in the NHL draft 5th overall by the Boston Bruins.

Despite being ridiculed throughout the years for his pudgy frame, Kessel, who is affectionately known as “Phil the Thrill,” entered the 2022-23 season on the cusp of eclipsing some special milestones, including being only one goal shy of joining the 400-goal club and 44 points away from 1,000 for his career.

During what has been a stellar career, Kessel has played for the Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins, Arizona Coyotes and this year, the Vegas Golden Knights.

Though looked upon as an elite scorer, Kessel has often been criticized for being lazy and for not having the best diet, along with, as mentioned above, not being in the best shape.

Perhaps the best example was from back on July 2, 2015. Shortly after being traded from the Leafs to the Penguins, an article by Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun wasn’t very complimentary of how Kessel trained or his overall attitude and diet.

Kessel’s whacky sense of humour came through in 2017 after helping Pittsburgh win the Cup. He posted a picture of Lord Stanley on the golf course filled with hot dogs. A smiling Kessel was standing by the Cup while holding a hotdog.

He might not be a gym rat, but there is no denying his achievements. Besides winning the Cup twice in Pittsburgh (2016 and 2017), he also laced up his skates for the 2011, 2012 and 2015 All-Star Games.

Following four seasons with the Penguins, Kessel was again on the move. On June 19, 2019, a multiplayer deal saw him dealt to the Coyotes, where he would go on to have three subpar campaigns.

Two years after scoring a career-high 34 goals and 92 points for the Pens, Kessel’s stock began to drop. Kessel didn’t make the greatest impression during the 2019/20 season with the Coyotes, as he totalled only 14 goals and 38 points in 70 games played.

The following two years in the desert saw modest improvement. Kessel scored 20 goals and 43 points in his second year, and last season he totalled eight goals and 52 points.

This past off-season, Kessel was once more on the move. He signed a one-year, 1.5 million dollar contract with the Golden Knights as an Unrestricted Free Agent.

Upon showing up to camp, Kessel had people once again talking about his weight, only this time in a positive manner.

Showing his commitment to bouncing back to elite status, Kessel, now 35 years old, came to camp in September much lighter and in shape.

“When I first saw him, I was expecting him to be 300 pounds,” Vegas captain Mark Stone said to The Athletic. “Furthest thing from it. I mean, this guy can throw weights around the gym. He’s one of the strongest guys—one of most understated strong guys I’ve seen.”

So far, Vegas has gotten off to a 2-0 start, and Kessel, averaging 13:17 of ice time, has totalled five shots on goal along with four penalty minutes.

Last year, in late March, during a Coyotes overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets, Kessel made history when he played consecutive game number 965. This moved him ahead of forward Doug Jarvis and into second place on the NHL consecutive games ironman list.

Kessel, who as a member of the Leafs began the streak on November 3, 2009, got some help last March from the Coyotes organization in keeping that much historic games played streak alive.

Showing how much he wanted to keep that game streak intact, Kessel travelled in early March to Detroit, where after taking one shift in an eventual 9-2 win against the Red Wings, he left the ice and eagerly returned to Arizona for his child’s birth. Stepping up was the Coyotes organization, which permitted Kessel to leave after one shift and chartered a plane for the veteran.

As of October 17, Kessel has played in 985 consecutive games, leaving him three behind leader Keith Yandle. It’s pretty ironic for a player who, throughout his career, was criticized for his physical fitness.

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