What would you call elite?


On Friday Sportsnet’s Mark Spector wrote a column about the Bobby Ryan/Team USA comments that have sent the hockey world into a frenzy

In the third paragraph of the column Spector wrote this little gem;

"P.K. Subban gives the puck away. Or Phil Kessel is not among hockey’s elite skaters. Or the Sedin twins don’t punch back."


Phil Kessel is not among hockey’s elite skaters?

Where did that come from?

In my mind I can’t fathom how anyone who watches hockey doesn’t rate Kessel as having, at the very least, above average skating skills.

Just to make sure I wasn’t viewing Kessel through my Leafs Nation glasses I contacted a Western Conference scout and asked him to rate Kessel’s skating.

"Very good. He has get away speed."

When a scout says a player has the ability to use his speed to get away from other players I consider the player in question to have "elite skating" ability.

Next season Kessel will begin an eight year contract that will cost the Leafs $8 million dollars against the cap annually for the duration of the deal. Dave Nonis didn’t give him that money to kill penalties, play physical, win face-offs or be a leader. They gave him that money because of his shot, scoring ability and the fact he has "get away speed". 

I have known Spector for a number of years and have no issue with the man. But when I saw what he wrote about Kessel I had to respond.

The comment makes little sense. At first I thought he was attempting to paraphrase comments he had heard from NHL GM’s during his travels. But when he ended the paragraph with the phrase, "Facts are facts", that changed everything.

Here is a fact; Phil Kessel is a great big hairy American goal-scoring machine. (Ricky Bobby reference.)

Going into tonight’s game against the Rangers Kessel has scored 139 goals in his 324 games with the Leafs.

That puts him 121 goals behind Wendel Clark for 8th place (260 goals) on the Leafs all-time goal scoring list.

Based on the pace he is currently on Kessel will hit the 260 goal mark in the same amount of games it took Clark.

Clark used to intimidate the opposition with his shot, toughness and open ice hitting.

Kessel intimidates with his shot and his speed. Kessel has that rare ability  to make NHL defencemen look silly if they are caught flat-footed.

So Spector can write whatever he wants; it won’t change the fact the Kessel is exceptionally fast.

If you’re still not convinced ask any NHL defenceman if they think Kessel is among the league’s "elite skaters".