How Will Phil Kessel Rank Among Leaf Greats?
This season, Toronto Maple Leafs sniper Phil Kessel has shown the world that he can be an elite player. Right now, he ranks 2nd in the NHL in points with 73, and 3rd in goals with 34. Now that it’s clear he’s developing into something truly special, many Leafs fans are wondering: how will Kessel stack up against other legends who wore the blue and white? Just how good is this kid?
Many great players have played for the Maple Leafs – Mats Sundin, Doug Gilmour and Darryl Sittler immediately spring to mind. And, many of them have been offensive juggernauts. However, it’s becoming more and more apparent that Kessel is in a league of his own, with his blistering speed and incredible shot. He’s known to do things like this. And this. And this (fun fact: I was at that game!). His career points-per-game is 0.934, which would put him 11th among active players.
This got me to thinking – at the end of his career, how will Leafs fans remember “The Phil”? I looked at his numbers, and made some projections. Obviously there are a lot of assumptions made here, but here we go!
The current all-time points leader for the Toronto Maple Leafs is Mats Sundin, with 987 points as a Leaf (420 goals, 567 assists). He did that in 981 games (just over a point-per-game). In his career with the Leafs, Kessel has 326 points in 349 games (153 goals, 173 assists). At only 26 years old, he’s still bound to have about 10 years left in his career (Sundin played until he was 37). So, let’s assume Kessel plays 10 more seasons, playing his career average of 76 games each season (this allows for minor injuries). We also have to assume that he stays with the Leafs for all 10 years (he’s already signed through 8 of them), which would amount to around 1100 total games as a Leaf (that would probably put him third on the Leafs’ all-time games played list).
Kessel’s production is likely to drop off once he’s left his prime, after the age of, say, 34. However, at 26, he’s still coming into his prime. So, using his current PPG of 0.934 is probably a reasonable way of accounting for both growth in the next few years and a decline in his last few.
If Phil Kessel plays for another 10 years, maintaining a PPG near 0.934, he’s projected to get 1036 points. That would obliterate Sundin’s record. If we want to break that down further, using his career goals-per-game average of 0.438, it looks like Kessel could end up with 486 goals. That would also be good for the most in Leafs history. (It’s important to note, of course, that these totals don’t include the points he’s likely to get in the last few games of this season!)
So, does this mean Phil is definitely going to break all the franchise records and be the greatest Leaf ever? Not necessarily. However, he’s certainly on pace to be in the discussion for the best to wear the blue and white. Even if he doesn’t finish his career in Toronto, or misses a significant chunk of time to injury, I’d be prepared to wager that Phil Kessel will eventually be regarded as one of the all-time Leafs legends. One day, I imagine we’ll all be watching as his number 81 is raised to the rafters of the Air Canada Centre. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Kessel ends up in the discussion for one of the best American players of all time. That would require a lot of things to go right, of course, but it’s not out of the question.