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Cocky Kessel brings big game and mouth to NHL

Posted: Friday August 18, 2006 12:33PM; Updated: Friday August 18, 2006 1:40PM
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Kessel has hot wheels and the rare ability to motor with the puck at top speed.
Kessel has hot wheels and the rare ability to motor with the puck at top speed.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
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It's a good day to be a fan of the black and gold . . . and no, I'm not talking about the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sure, it's big news that Evgeni Malkin is safe in America, and fixing to announce that he'll be with the Pens this season. But buried beneath the cloak and dagger intrigue of Malkin's defection -- and who knew you had to defect from Russia these days? -- is equally intriguing news: The Boston Bruins managed to ink Phil Kessel, the fifth overall pick of the 2006 draft and a guy who just may be hockey's answer to Terrell Owens.

The three-year deal with Kessel, an 18-year-old forward who appeared to be headed back for his sophomore season at the University of Minnesota, was the right move for both parties.

You'll hear the naysayers crying that he would have helped his development by staying in college, at least for another year. They're wrong. Minnesota may be the perfect, nurturing bosom for some players, but Kessel was simply spinning his rocket-powered wheels in academia. He'd spoken more than once of the drudgery of attending classes -- hardly the ideal situation for the student/athlete -- and the Gophers never really outfitted him with linemates who were capable of exploiting his gifts.

For Special K, it all came down to opportunity. Though nominally a center, he's better suited for life on the wing...and the Bruins just happen to have a sweet spot available right now on the second line alongside Marc Savard -- the NHL's ninth leading scorer in 2005-06 -- and Glen Murray, a dependable 30-goal man. That's the kind of talent that'll bring out the best in Kessel's game.

And man, what a game he has. Speed rules the New NHL, and Kessel is so fast the French want a urine sample. Team USA coach Keith Allain, who was with Kessel at last week's national junior evaluation camp, raved about his ability to handle the puck at top speed. That's a trick very few NHLers can turn.

And then there's the shot: a red light special powered by a release that has been compared to Brett Hull's.

There's no arguing that the kid has all the physical tools to be a star in this league. He may not be polished yet, but Kessel's a gem.

Kessel is also well aware of his gifts, and that has led to more than a hint of hot-doggery on occasion . . . which brings us back to Terrell Owens.

Like the Dallas Cowboys' controversial wide receiver, Kessel has had trouble with teammates in the past. He can be a me-first player who sometimes neglects the other four skaters on his side. He's been dogged by allegations of underage drinking, and he has a tendency to talk first and think later in front of the cameras.

And like Owens, he's a player who, love him or hate him, people won't be able to get enough of. And isn't that exactly the type of young player the league needs?