Phil Kessel is Thomas Vanek - seriously, he is. Look at their stats. We don’t have an elite scorer in the NHL – we have a good player. Kessel is a nice player to watch, and certainly will score a few goals. But I project his maximum output to be that of Mr. Vanek. 35-40 goals and 70 points. That will be a down year for Tyler Seguin by the way.Ok, interesting point. Let's look at it a little bit - maybe a bit more optimistically.
First things first; Vanek is a cap hit of $7.14 per season. In other words, he makes more money than 100-point man Nicklas Backstrom. If Kessel is Vanek then we just saved ourselves $1.7 million dollars.
On the surface, their numbers are a lot alike. Point totals year-over-year look eerily similar (I can see where Darren got the comparison from). Having said this, Kessel is also 23 and still developing. I suspect the Kessel we see this season is probably the player we're going to have for the duration of his contract and I expect some improvement on last year's totals.
Vanek on the other hand is 26. He's in his prime and likely wont see a meaningful upward trend in production. I expect he'll have the odd good year, but he's probably going to live around 65 points.
Not only this, Kessel had no help last year. None. There's no sense in sugar-coating it, last season's forward group was not good. Vanek on the other hand has been able to reap the benefit of a very balanced Sabres forward group. The Leafs are improving upfront and will continue to do so as the young group develops. As they improve, so too will Kessel's numbers.
This season's Sports Forecaster projects Kessel to be a 40 goal scorer this year and that's with Bozak as his first line centre. Kadri will be an improvement over Bozak eventually and when the two of them are paired together I think Leaf fans may come to expect 40 goals from Kessel.
He may not be the top player on a Stanley Cup contender but if Vanek can be the best forward on a playoff team then Kessel can be too. He's a player that Leaf fans should be excited to have. For the record, don't listen to Darren's 'projections' -- he also said he would take Kopitar before Backstrom in a fantasy draft. Yeah, I know...
Interestingly, Vanek scored 51 points for the Minnesota Gophers in 03-04, and Kessel did the exact same in 05-06. However, Vanek scored more goals, and Vanek's freshman year (02-03) he put up 62 points.
The major difference looking at these guys' pasts, I think, is that Kessel was on the U.S. National Team Development Program for a couple years, which does a good job at preparing players for their careers, and ultimately produces elite hockey players.
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