Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Kessel bashing begins

My thumb is down to 2006 NHL draft prospect Phil Kessel. A year ago, people were wondering if you had Crosby and Kessel at the same draft, who would you take? Phil the thrill has become Phil the Overkill with the suspicion he'll be the next Alexandre Daigle than Alexander Ovechkin. He has been demoted to fifth among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.

- Michael Farber, Sports Illustrated

I get it, I do. TV appearances are only successful if you can make wild, attention-grabbing statements, and comparing formerly projected No. 1-overall pick Kessel to Daigle is one of those. It's actually more than that: It's ridiculous.

It's also a good thing it comes from Sports Illustrated, that reputable bastion of hockey knowledge, or else a respected hockey publication would be left looking mighty silly about the time Kessel wins the Calder Trophy. Maybe even sooner than that.

Say all you want about Kessel's 'disappointing' turn at the 2006 world junior tournament — you know, the one he led in scoring with 11 points in seven games — this kid's going to be a star. It's a heck of a lot easier to light up the QMJHL like Daigle did than to be a dominant presence as a rookie in NCAA play. Kessel had 51 points in 39 games with the University of Minnesota this year, putting him just outside of the top 10 scorers in college hockey. (They're also comparable numbers to those Dany Heatley put up at Wisconsin in both his freshman and sophomore year.)

Central Scouting has been wrong before, and I believe they'll be wrong here again. There's no way a player with that kind of explosive speed and on-ice vision isn't going to have a successful NHL career. The thing is, with all of the anti-hype now being thrown his way, one of the teams with a pick further down the list is really going to benefit.

My guess is ultra-cautious St. Louis Blues' GM Larry Pleau steers clear of 'The Next Big Bust', which leaves Kessel available for Pittsburgh, Chicago or Washington. Heck, Boston, Columbus and the New York Islanders may even have a shot, too.

But let's all remember that Sports Illustrated's hockey world is one where Florida would finish fourth in the Eastern Conference and Chicago, Columbus and Pittsburgh squeaked into the playoffs. Perhaps, in light of that, being called 'The Next Daigle' isn't so bad.

It's when they're calling you Gretzky you should be worried.

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At 6:59 p.m., April 23, 2006, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

As a University of Minnesota season ticket holder, I'll have to add that Kessel plays better defense than Dany Heatley did while he was at Wisconsin.

The Gophers have a real problem, though. Ryan Potulny and Danny Irmen just left after their junior year, and there is a reasonable chance that Kessel will leave after his freshman year, and Erik Johnson and Kyle Okposo may never show up.

At 8:49 p.m., April 23, 2006, Anonymous Lyle Richardson said...

Farber was a Montreal Gazette columnist for years back in the 80s and early 90s, so he should've known better to make statements like that about Kessel without doing his research. I guess when you write for SI, you lose all hockey knowledge.

Kessel might not turn out as big a star in his rookie season as Crosby or Ovechkin, but I agree with your take, James. This kid is gonna be a star.

At 12:22 p.m., April 24, 2006, Anonymous pete said...

Who cares about Kessel? The guy whose ranking I want to drop like a stone is Jordan Staal.

If he could drop to say, 13th, that would be just great.....

At 4:01 p.m., April 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too, was a little surprised when I heard Farber's rant. IF you ask me, if Farber believed that Kessel's draft stock has fallen, shouldn't he had given the "thumb's down" to the Central Scouting Departmant for miscalculating his abilities?
As for my opinion of Kessel, I was at the WJHC in Vancouver, and thought he was a non-factor in most games. We must realize that the bulk of his tourney-leading point total came in Game #1 against Denmark....where he and Chris Bourque played keep-away.

At 4:46 p.m., April 24, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I don't think you can base a player's potential worth as an NHLer on solely a short international tournament where his team played poorly. The best way to evaluate a young player in a situtation like that is to, mainly, just look at his skillset.

On that basis, I think Kessel was one of the tournament's best players. He was definitely the best skater and puckhandler, and on that alone, I'd pick him first overall. (That's not to say Johnson won't be a great defencemen; I just think Kessel's potential worth will be all the higher.)

As for Staal, he'll never fall past No. 4. Sorry Pete.

At 5:07 p.m., April 24, 2006, Anonymous Dennis Prouse said...

Paul Kariya never had a great turn at the WJC, and he seemed to turn out OK. Ditto for Mario Lemieux. It's a great tournament and all, but the individual performances within it get magnified out of all proportion. There are an awful lot of great NHLers who never could seem to crack the World Junior roster, and others who shone in that tournament, and flopped in the NHL. For example, Joe Murphy ended up being a number one overall pick based at least in part on a very strong showing at the World Juniors. Oops...

At 7:36 p.m., April 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

James, I couldn't disagree more with you on your assesment of Kessel's "skill-set". If you watched him at the WJHC (as i said earlier, i was there), He was the best player on the ice, between the blue lines. Put a body in front of him in the offensive zone, and he lost the puck....nearly EVERY time, check the game film. And I don't think you take a player #1 overall based on skating and puckhandling. The NHL is loaded with guys that have all the skills to be great, but NONE of the intangibles.


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