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Maple Leafs Watch: Kessel could be last man standing

This year’s version of the NHL All-Star Game will take it old school, back to the days when teams were chosen by tossing sticks left or right out of a pile. Sort of.

All-star captains will draft their teams live on television Jan. 28 from the pool of players chosen to participate. Kudos to the NHL for trying to spice things up, at the very least there will be intrigue surrounding who the last player picked is. Nobody wants to be that guy.

This year Phil Kessel will represent your Toronto Maple Leafs. Sounds like the perfect match under the league’s system of having each team represented at the festivities, right? Not really.

Kessel isn’t the Leafs’ leading scorer and is quickly proving to be a one-trick pony. Sure his 18 goals are good for a top-20 NHL ranking, but his minus-15 rating is good for the league’s bottom 20.

He’s dangerous only on the power play or when he gets the puck on the fly. Otherwise he does little to create space for himself or chances for his teammates. It’s: get the puck and either wire it from a standing-still position or attempt a high-speed, inside-outside move that leads to a shot.

Defensively he’s invisible and it’s not often that you’ll find Kessel grinding in the hard areas of the ice.

For those reasons, I have him fourth on my Maple Leafs all-star depth chart.

At the top of the list is center Mikhail Grabovski. Heading into Tuesday’s match-up versus San Jose, ‘Grabo’ has 12 goals and 17 points in his past 15 games and is plus-6 on the season to lead the team. Any line that doesn’t have him on it is not the team’s top scoring line, no matter what anyone says.

No. 2 is first-year Leafs winger Clarke MacArthur. Not only is he a refreshingly candid interview who’s not afraid to call out his teammates when it’s needed, he’s leading the team in scoring and plays hard every game.

Third is the Leafs’ old warhorse, defenseman Tomas Kaberle. He’s a three-time All-Star Game participant and three-time Olympian, who’s played 669 more games with the team than any current Leaf. Kaberle is the closest thing the Leafs have to NHL royalty. He’s also on pace for about 56 points, the third-highest total of his 12-year career.

Kessel might get to 35 goals and is the player the Leafs would like to be an all-star. But is he their best player? Not a chance. Heck, he didn’t even get the most fan votes on the team: that honor goes to captain Dion Phaneuf.

This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.


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