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Coyotes’ Phil Kessel brings excitement along with scoring threat

Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins takes the ice before the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotagainst the Arizona Cardinalsat Gila River Arena on January 18, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

For Phil Kessel, scoring goals just is part of the game of hockey.

For fans of the Arizona Coyotes, Kessel’s goal-scoring ability might end up being a game-changer.

It remains to be seen what the trade for Kessel — which sent forward Alex Galchenyuk to the Penguins — will ultimately mean for Arizona. The team is certainly hoping that the addition of an elite scoring threat, along with the other offseason moves, will be enough to get to the playoffs. No pressure for Kessel, though.

“It’s what you’ve done since you’re a kid, right? I don’t think you can put extra pressure,” Kessel told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station Tuesday. “First and foremost, you’ve got to do whatever’s best to help the team. You do that first and I think the other stuff comes.” 

Kessel has put up elite numbers since he joined the NHL, scoring 20-plus goals in 11 consecutive seasons going back to the 2008-09 season. He’s had 80 or more points four times, including in back-to-back campaigns the last two seasons.

“I just do what I kind of do. I don’t necessarily change my game ever,” Kessel said. “I just go out there and play my game, and hopefully I can produce points and score goals and help the team win. That’s basically it. I don’t think I really need to change for anything and just keep on doing my thing, I guess.”

The deal that sent Kessel to Arizona on Saturday was the third time the forward had been dealt in his career. For Coyotes fans, though, it may be one of the first of its kind, perhaps reminiscent only of when the team traded a pair of players and a draft pick to get Jeremy Roenick in 1996.

“We were talking about this the other day: This very well might be the biggest blockbuster trade in our team’s history,” president and CEO Ahron Cohen told Doug & Wolf. “You bring in one of the marquee players in the league and guy that’s been very good for a very long period of time.

“I think our Twitter followers jumped quite a bit after the trade, and certainly getting a lot of people reaching out on a national level and other people in the league congratulating us. It’s a big name, and I think this is good. This is good for Arizona sports fans and good for Coyotes fans everywhere, because they see us really making some moves in the right direction.”

Kessel said he was excited to come to Arizona, in-part because he reunites with former Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet but also because of the city and the up-and-coming, young team.

Even GM John Chayka has noticed an improvement in the way other players view his organization.

“That was one of our goals, my goals, coming into here, “he said Tuesday. “I felt like we have a beautiful city and we have the makings of a good, young team that has a chance. Obviously bringing in Rick Tocchet, a guy that players around the league talk about and want to play for, that certainly helps. And having the opportunity to have new ownership come in, like Alex Meruelo and the wherewithal he has and the competitiveness to be a contending team, that’s huge. That’s what players are looking for.”

The night before the Coyotes acquired Kessel, the team had its prospect development scrimmage at Gila River Arena. Cohen said the attendance last year was around 1,000 people, while this year it was up over 4,000.

“It’s been a busy time for us and really happy with this move and what this means for our team,” Cohen said. “This is a guy that’s a proven winner, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, a guy that knows how to put the puck in the net. I think we can all agree that’s something that was missing from our team last year. … John Chayka, who in my opinion is the best GM in the entire league, went out and made this happen and we’ve fulfilled this need and I think made our team a lot better.”

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