Jack Eichel has brought about many changes for the Vegas Golden Knights. His overall skillset finally gives the Golden Knights an elite top-line center. But many sacrifices have had to be made for Eichel’s arrival. Both Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs were traded to the Buffalo Sabres in the trade itself. Plus, Max Pacioretty, Evgenii Dadonov, and Mattias Janmark have also been shed for salary cap space.
This leaves the Golden Knight’s depth at wing shallow with a massive drop-off in quality after Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith. In our series, looking at the Golden Knight’s current depth charts, we discussed the possibility of someone like Nicolas Roy or Nolan Patrick playing wing.
But it is still clear that the VGK need outside help to patch up their top-six group of wingers. This leads us to free agency and a two-time Stanley Cup Champion who currently needs a new team to play for.
Phillip J. Kessel
It’s hard to dislike Phil Kessel. The guy nonchalantly puts up scoring seasons year after year and does so with one of the funniest personalities in the league. His goal scoring dropped last season with the Arizona Coyotes as he scored just eight. But he made up for it with 44 assists for a total of 56 points.
So far, the veteran right-winger remains one of the biggest names who has not signed in free agency. The Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild, and Toronto Maple Leafs have all been linked to Kessel.
Today, I will make the case for the Vegas Golden Knights.
An Added Winger
The obvious positive of bringing in Kessel would be that it adds a top-six forward. Kessel is 34 and not the fastest skater, so placing him in the top-six would be a bit of a risk. But he currently looks better than someone like William Carrier or Michael Amadio, who are the Golden Knight’s current options.
Kessel is an offense-first type of player and can help out the Golden Knight’s abysmal powerplay, which finished 25th in 2021-22. He has 117 career powerplay goals and 324 powerplay points in his career.
Still A Scoring Threat
I think many people have written off Kessel these past three seasons as he played for an irrelevant Coyotes team. Even with the Yotes, Kessel was able to find his scoring touch. Admittedly it was not as much as his days with Boston, Toronto, and Pittsburgh. But he still scored 91 points in his time in ARZ.
A positive way to look at this would be that he is simply not getting the opportunities in Arizona that he had elsewhere. His linemates were weaker than someone like Evgeni Malkin or Patrice Bergeon. Who knows what he could do alongside Jack Eichel?
82 Man Games
Adding Kessel also guarantees you 82-man games of play as he simply doesn’t get injured. This is something the Golden Knights can take advantage of after last season. Not a single player played a full 82-game season with the VGK in 2021-22. More on Kessel’s active games-played streak later.
Stanley Cup Experience
Kessel also brings experience to the Golden Knights locker room as a two-time Stanley Cup Champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He would join Alex Pietrangelo, Alec Martinez, and Chandler Stephenson and cup-champs on the Golden Knights roster.
Kessel has sat on the free agent market for almost a month now. It is likely that he will be willing to take a pay cut for the insurance of having a place to play in 2022-23. As a player who has been in the NHL for 16 years and made millions of dollars already, Kessel should not eat up much salary to whichever team he ends up signing with.
Effort and Passion
Kessel’s efforts, especially defensively have been criticized throughout his entire career. As a player who has not missed a game since I was in the fourth grade, there have certainly been games where Kessel has gone through the motions and been invisible to his team in terms of production.
I’m not going to sit and judge, as I watched just three Coyotes games last year. But it is clear that he was not the most spirited player in the league this past three seasons with the basement-dwelling Coyotes.
If Max Pacioretty is to be believed, the Golden Knights are already in a situation where they aren’t held accountable after losing.
Games Played Streak
The biggest red flag surrounding Kessel is something that is honestly comedic when you think about it. He plays too much! Kessel is currently just seven games behind Keith Yandle for the all-time record of consecutive games played in the NHL (989 games), a streak that Kessel started in November of 2009.
Last season, we saw the Philadelphia Flyers under fire after they decided to scratch Yandle and end his consecutive games played streak. The concern with Kessel is that if he struggles and needs to be scratched, it would once again be a PR nightmare as the team would essentially be ruining a record.
I honestly am puzzled as to why Kessel has not been signed yet. He’s a money-in-the-bank 40-point scorer who can play every game of the season. He can not only help the Golden Knights shore up some of their problems at wing and also help on the powerplay, which stunk last season.
As Barack Obama once said, Phil Kessel is a Stanley Cup Champion. Could he be a Golden Knight next?