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Rocket's Red Glare: The curious case of ex-Gopher Phil Kessel, the NHL's leading scorer

Posted by: Michael Rand under Sports Updated: November 16, 2011 - 12:31 PM

Each week, commenter Rocket writes about the NHL because we so often neglect the sport he loves. Except for today, when we already wrote about hockey just to make him feel bad. Rocket?

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Remember this guy (and this ugly iteration of what should be a classic jersey)?

If you love Gopher Hockey and haven’t checked in on the NHL in a while I have a shocking bit of news for you. Phil Kessel is leading the NHL in both goals and total scoring.
 
 
Yes, it is still very early, but Kessel – who has looked to some like he is 38 years old for at least the last half dozen years – is on pace for a 58 goal/116 point season. Of course, he will likely fall well short of both marks when it is all said and done and will not lead the league in scoring or anything other than bizarre disappointments. The world will not have it any other way.
 
Kessel has always seemed like the kind of guy who proved that even the supremely talented are not immune to Murphy’s Law. Recruited by both Bucky and Goldy, Kessel left his home state to join the Gophers, only to watch Wisconsin win the national championship and to leave the U of M on a much different, yet perhaps more memorable note. He was also part of a local media sting that uncovered the fact that underage college kids sometimes drink. Although picked fifth in the NHL draft, a history of injuries and lukewarm amateur play kept him from going number one overall. Early in his NHL career it was discovered that he had testicular cancer. He’s thankfully seemingly recovered from that, but other bad luck has remained. He was the last player picked in the inaugural NHL All-Star draft (much to the delight of Alex Ovechkin, who felt it necessary to chronicle the moment). And even though he’s been a regular 30 plus-goal scorer for the last few years, the general sentiment has been that he really hasn’t lived up to his potential.
 
He also seems awkward with the media and generally oblivious, which manifested itself in a mini-controversy last season where he might have sorta kinda but probably not really asked for a trade. He has also seemed this whole time to be genuinely perplexed as to why people are upset that his only real talent on the ice is scoring lots and lots of goals, despite the numerous questions about his work ethic and dedication and lack of an overall game that probably should have clued him in to what others were thinking. Still, while undoubtedly some of his problems are his own doing, certainly not all of them can be attributed to him.
 
That’s why so many are so surprised that he has been off to such a hot start this year. The hockey world has been impatiently waiting for Kessel to make the jump to the next level for the better part of a decade, and it looks like he might have finally done it.
 
This is also why it just won’t happen. This cruel world has determined that Kessel is going to be one of those guys to whom real success and true greatness will just be out of reach and who will be a magnet for misfortune. We may be just moments – and certainly not more than a couple of weeks – away from Kessel suffering a broken collarbone or herniated disc or a moderate case of scurvy. His quest to be an elite scorer will be derailed. It cannot happen any other way.
 
I can’t say that I hold any serious ill will for Kessel, even though many regard him as something of a bridge between a very successful era of Minnesota hockey and a particularly pitiful era out of which the squad only now seems to be crawling. And when we look back in 2020 or sometime thereabouts, we’re all going to be surprised that Kessel had as good of an NHL career as he did. The numbers will be impressive and there will be some young whippersnappers who will make some noise about how he is a hall of famer.
 
Yet, anyone with two eyes and even the most minute sense of the order of the universe knows that Kessel isn’t getting into the hall of fame or going to have any level of sustained success beyond what will always tantalize and make us wonder what could have been if the world (or perhaps an admittedly emotional blogger who is likely not above the practice of voodoo for the purposes of revenge) had not decided to make an example out of him. Even his defenders seem to lack a certain something.
 
Poor Phil Kessel. He’ll never be anything other than Phil Kessel.
 

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