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THE MOJ: Canucks’ Kessel experiment is tossing the dice with house money

Tocchet and Rutherford very familiar with 17-year vet as he starts skating with Abbotsford
FILE - In this Jan. 2, 2016, file photo, Pittsburgh Penguins’ Phil Kessel plays during the team’s NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File) FILE - In this Jan. 2, 2016, file photo, Pittsburgh Penguins’ Phil Kessel plays during the team’s NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders in Pittsburgh. USA Hockey left Kessel off the list of the first 16 players selected to the U.S. team for the World Cup of Hockey, Wednesday, March 2.. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

You would think that after beating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 on Tuesday night, Canuck Nation would be focused on the team that had secured seven of a possible ten points on their road trip and would be coming home in first place in the overall NHL standings.

Think again.

Instead ‘X’ was abuzz with the fact that Phil Kessel was spotted arriving at Vancouver International Airport on Tuesday night.

A photo of the 17-year NHL veteran picking up his gear at YVR started trending on the social media platform with Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin issuing a statement shortly thereafter.

“Phil has made his way to Vancouver and will be working out in Abbotsford this week,” Allvin said.

Last year, Kessel played in 82 games for the Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights, recording 14 goals and 22 assists for 36 points, but was the odd man out of the lineup after four playoff games when William Carrier returned from an injury.

Coming off a one-year, $1.5 million dollar deal with the Knights, Kessel found no takers as a UFA and bided his time waiting for an opportunity.

The opportunity has now presented itself in Vancouver, where the Madison, Wisconsin native will renew acquaintances with Allvin, Canucks President Jim Rutherford and head coach Rick Tocchet.

The trio were part of Stanley Cup championship teams in Pittsburgh with Tocchet also coaching Kessel in Arizona for two seasons.

Having not played since last year, Kessel will practice and possibly even see some action with the Canucks AHL farm team in Abbotsford until he is ready to perform at the NHL level.

“Jim (Rutherford) has been talking to his agent the last couple of weeks. He’s going to go down there (Abbotsford) and skate for two or three days, see how he is down there and then re-evaluate from there,” Tocchet told the media after the win in Chicago.

If he proves himself in Abbotsford, Kessel could be signed by the Canucks at a minimal cost.

Should Vancouver indeed sign Kessel, what should Canuck Nation expect?

We decided to reach out to some NHL scouts late Tuesday night in order to get their take. For the most part, the response was favorable but there were also some concerns.

“He has played for the coach in Pittsburgh and Arizona. They know each other well. Has lots of playoff experience and is a true goal scorer. Knows what it takes to win. Will be a leader and keep things calm,” texted one.

“High-end skilled player who can score big goals but he hasn’t really been top-six (forward) the last couple of years. Will take a little time to get up to speed if he signs. He’ll provide Vancouver with very good depth in case of injury. Well-liked player by teammates,” added another scout.

Not all the reviews were positive.

“The only thing I can see is obviously Tocchet liked him in Arizona. Real slow last year. For me, he’s a depth guy who might be able to help on the second power play unit,” said another NHL scout.

No one is expecting Kessel to be a top-six forward and an impact player. In fact, I have major concerns on if he can get up to speed after missing half a season. That’s a huge ask considering he is 36 years old.

However, if Kessel can provide some depth and be a power-play specialist, he will be a positive addition to the hockey club – particularly when it comes to playoff experience. On the current Canuck roster, only defenseman Ian Cole has more playoff games (116) than Kessel (100).

In fact, Kessel might be able to contribute more off the ice than on in this situation given his likability and experience.

Regardless of what happens, this is a low-risk signing that doesn’t cost the Canucks any assets or major cap space.

They’re tossing the dice with house money.


* The one memory this agent has of Kessel is something that he saw when Kessel came to Vancouver as a Penguin a few years back. It’s something I never seen before nor since. Kessel took a shot that hit the crossbar, which is nothing to write home about, but the velocity of the shot combined with the angle of the rebound saw the puck fly through the air and land on the Penguins bench.

* Conor Garland scored twice with Dakota Joshua and Nils Hoglander also adding tallies in the 4-2 win against the Hawks at the United Center. Joshua added two assists to record a career-high three points and also got into a fight with MacKenzie Entwhistle to record a Gordie Howe hat trick. Chicago got goals from Tyler Johnson and Kevin Korchinski. Thatcher Demko made 21 saves in the win for Vancouver while Pter Mrzek made 34 stops for Chicago. The win was Demko’s 110th as a Canuck – passing Dan Cloutier for fourth all-time in Canucks history.

* While everyone talks about the chemistry between Garland and Joshua, the first goal of the game was evidence of how their chemistry continues to evolve. Garland has fed Joshua with a few ‘no-look’ passes for goals this season and there’s no doubt that Mrzek knew that when he flew over to get the angle on Joshua after Garland hit him with another cross-ice ‘no-look’ pass, but instead of shooting, Joshua made a return pass to Garland, who put the puck into a wide-open net. Garland became the 10th Canuck player to reach double-digits in goals this season – that’s tied with Detroit for the most in the NHL – and that total doesn’t include newly-acquired Elias Lindholm, who scored nine with Calgary and has a pair as a Canuck.

* As for Hoglander, his goal was his 17th of the season with all of them coming on 5-on-5 which is tops on the team and good for seventh in the league. The Canucks will start a short two-game homestand against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday at Rogers Arena with the Winnipeg Jets paying a visit on Saturday.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.

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