Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford expected Phil Kessel to score 30 goals this season, but overall he is happy with the forward’s play. Penguins fans might disagree.
The GM paid a premium price – prospect Kasperi Kapanen, defenseman Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling, plus a first and third round pick – for the sniper, who was expected to flourish playing with elite centers in Pittsburgh. The 28-year-old has been solid for the Penguins, with 21 goals and 47 points in 72 games, but many fans in Pittsburgh – including Rutherford himself – expected more.
“My expectation is he would get 30 goals this year,” Rutherford said on Hockey Central at Noon when discussing Kessel. “He’s been doing fine.”
Rutherford said he’s been impressed with Kessel’s recent two-way performance.
“His game in Philadelphia was probably his best game of the year as an all-around game. He was forechecking and doing things I really haven’t seen in his career.”
The GM was impressed with the way Kessel has played and still thinks he can be a dominant threat on the ice.
“We know at any time he can change the game. When he’s out there, the team has to watch him real close. Now he’s shooting the puck more, and pucks are going to go in.”
Kessel has been firing shots at a healthy rate, but his nine percent shooting percentage is lower than his career 10.7 percent average. He’s also only scored three power play goals, which would be the first time he’s scored fewer than five since his rookie season.
It’s understandable Penguins fans may be frustrated with Kessel’s lack of goals. He was put in a great situation and it wasn’t unreasonable to estimate 40 goals, let alone 30. The fact he’ll probably be lucky to hit 25 is slightly disappointing but doesn’t necessarily mean he’s played bad – just needs some puck luck. He’s doing the right things on the ice.
With Evgeni Malkin out, Pittsburgh will need to rely more on Kessel. I’d wager he’ll soon find his groove and be a huge force for the Penguins down the stretch. He’s too talented not to be.