Frozen Pool Forensics: Phil Kessel

by Cam Robinson on December 11, 2015

Are Kessel's struggles forever or can he return to his pre-Pittsburgh highs?

Ah to be an NHL superstar…The life we likely all have wished for since we were five-year-olds trying to slice our slap shots to get them off the ice. Well, it is not all million-dollar paycheques and joking around with the boys. Sometimes, it is not so easy. Being traded from one franchise to another is a tumultuous time for a player and often, that relocation is under-appreciated when considering the results that a player is producing.

After six seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Phil Kessel was shipped to the Steel City in exchange for youngsters and picks. The internet went b-a-n-a-n-a-s at the prospect of this pure sniper receiving feeds from Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. 40 goals? No problem. 50? Totally reasonable. 60?! Well hey, why not?

As we close in on the 30-game mark, fans and fantasy owners alike are scratching their heads at why the Penguins can’t score more goals. While Coach Mike Johnston and Crosby have faced the brunt of those questions, the newest member of the Pens top power-play unit is struggling right alongside them.

Taking a look at Kessel’s Player Profile Page, we see a plethora of disturbing figures. Currently, he has a five-on-five shooting percentage of just 5.83 – the lowest total in his last six seasons; his nine goals and 17 points through 27 games are pacing him for 27 goals and 52 points – that would tie the mark he achieved during the 48 game lockout season of 2012-13.

These low figures are exasperated by the fact that he is being put in prime opportunities to produce. Kessel is receiving an average of 3:48 on the power play per contest; starting 57 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone – the highest amount he has ever seen; his 86 shots-on-goal (about three per game) are right around his career average and to top it all off, he’s lining up next to a superstar centre on virtually every shift.

Total Points for Phil Kessel : 17

Str

On Ice Line Combination

Points

%Total
Points

EV

KESSEL,PHIL – MALKIN,EVGENI – PERRON,DAVID

6

35.29%

PP

CROSBY,SIDNEY – HORNQVIST,PATRIC – KESSEL,PHIL – MALKIN,EVGENI

4

23.53%

EV

KESSEL,PHIL – MALKIN,EVGENI

2

11.76%

EV

CROSBY,SIDNEY – KESSEL,PHIL – KUNITZ,CHRIS

2

11.76%

EV

KESSEL,PHIL – KUNITZ,CHRIS – MALKIN,EVGENI

1

5.88%

EV

CULLEN,MATT – KESSEL,PHIL – MALKIN,EVGENI

1

5.88%

PP

CROSBY,SIDNEY – KESSEL,PHIL – MALKIN,EVGENI

1

5.88%

Frequency

Strength

Line Combination

42.44%

EV

KESSEL,PHIL – MALKIN,EVGENI – PERRON,DAVID

17.84%

EV

CROSBY,SIDNEY – KESSEL,PHIL – KUNITZ,CHRIS

10.15%

PP

CROSBY,SIDNEY – HORNQVIST,PATRIC – KESSEL,PHIL – MALKIN,EVGENI

3.44%

EV

CROSBY,SIDNEY – KESSEL,PHIL – MALKIN,EVGENI

2.73%

EV

KESSEL,PHIL – MALKIN,EVGENI – PLOTNIKOV,SERGEI

2.59%

PP

CROSBY,SIDNEY – KESSEL,PHIL – KUNITZ,CHRIS – MALKIN,EVGENI

1.92%

EV

KESSEL,PHIL – MALKIN,EVGENI

1.57%

EV

CROSBY,SIDNEY – DUPUIS,PASCAL – KESSEL,PHIL

So what’s going on? Just for fun, here’s a look at the last four seasons of goal scoring for the Penguins…

Season

Goals Scored

League Average

2011-2012

273

224

2012-2013 (Lockout Season)

162

131

2013-2014

242

225

2014-2015*

217

224

2015-2016*

64

74

*With Johnston at the helm.

After years of being an offensive juggernaut, the Penguins under Johnston have proven incapable of even living up to league averages. While they boast some of the world’s finest offensive talent, they cannot seem to get their power play going – currently ranked 22nd in the league at 16.13 percent – or their five-on-five production – 21st overall with 47 total goals.

Kessel is not to blame for this. However, his offensive output is intrinsically tied to the production of his team. Until this Penguins squad can muster up an offensive scheme worthy of their individual talents, the days of hoping for monster point totals from Kessel will be nothing more than a dream.

To offer a glimmer of hope for fantasy owners, Kessel isn’t the only Penguin in recent memory to have a slow-start in his new home. In 2011, Pittsburgh acquired sniper, James Neal, and in the final 18 games to close out that season, he registered only one goal and six points. The following season… 40 goals and 81 points.

Fantasy owners need to cool their jets when it comes to panicking over Kessel. This is a player who has averaged a 0.935 point-per-game pace over the last four seasons (77-point average) while playing on a team that offered little support and even less secondary scoring for defenders to key in on. Yes, its true that we will not be seeing 60, 50 or even 40 goals out of the 28 year-old this season, but that’s not to say we won’t be able to see him crack one or two of those milestones in the coming years. Especially as he adjusts to his new surroundings and if the team can transition to a more offensive approach; whether that’s with the current coaching staff, or a new one.

 

Projected point-per-game outlook for the remaining schedule: 0.75 – 0.9

 

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