Monday, April 10, 2023 | 3:02 p.m.
Phil Kessel came to the Golden Knights because he wanted to get back to the playoffs.
It had been two years since Kessel, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, played in the postseason. He arrived in Vegas thinking a third title could be plausible.
This season hasn’t gone as Kessel had planned statistically, but he’s still had a memorable year that included him becoming the league’s new ironman by breaking the consecutive games played record. And he’s getting the chance to play for the Stanley Cup again after the Golden Knights returned to the playoffs for the fifth time in their six-year history.
Reaching 1,062 straight games and maintaining a level of professional consistency is what made him the Golden Knights’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, as voted on by the Vegas chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
The Masterton Trophy is awarded to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.” The winner will be announced during the NHL Awards on June 26 in Nashville.
“It’s exciting,” Kessel said of returning to the playoffs. “Obviously, I think we’ve got a good team here. We’ve got a good chance, and hopefully, we can play our game to get there.”
Kessel would be the first two-time winner of the Masterton Trophy should the votes tally his way.
He was the recipient in 2007 as a 19-year-old rookie with the Boston Bruins. Kessel was diagnosed with testicular cancer in December 2006. Three weeks after surgery and deemed cancer free, Kessel returned to action on Jan. 9, 2007 after missing just 11 games.
Two years later, Kessel’s consecutive games streak began. It’s a run that has pushed him to closing in on 1,000 points for his career.
The night Kessel broke the record, Oct. 25 in San Jose, it was a situation that teammates of past and present have always said of Kessel — he puts the team first.
Kessel scored his 400th career goal that night, another milestone he was happy to move on from considering he had the milestone goal wiped away 24 hours prior due to an offsides challenge.
Outside of those big moments, Kessel’s season has been defined by trying to find a fit. He’s played on different lines, ranging from a first-line shooter on Jack Eichel’s left side, to a fourth-line grinder with rookies and young players trying to make a case for a place in the lineup.
For those young players, it’s been an invaluable experience.
“It’s a treat. It really is,” rookie forward Paul Cotter said earlier this season. “It’s great to play with him, learning the little things. He’s hilarious. He keeps it light. At times, I get hard on myself during the game. He’s always a reminder that, ‘hey, you’re doing what you love. We’re having fun.’”
But on a team that’s been rattled by injuries in the past two years, Kessel is on pace to be one of three Vegas players to play all 82 games this season, joining William Karlsson and Brayden McNabb.
Kessel’s 36 points are on pace to be the lowest since his rookie season, but he’s found some chemistry with the playoffs near on a line with Ivan Barbashev and Chandler Stephenson.
The new-look third line combined for six points in the 5-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.
“I think we’re playing pretty well off each other,” Kessel said. “We’re creating some offense and hopefully we can keep it up.”
The 35-year-old Kessel could be an X-factor for Vegas heading into the playoffs. He and Stephenson have played well together at 5-on-5, and Kessel’s on a run of 10 points in 13 games entering Tuesday’s home finale against the Seattle Kraken (7 p.m., ATTSN-RM).
What next year holds for Kessel is a mystery. Through all the challenges, he’s still playing hockey and has done so consecutively for a decade-plus.
“Phil’s still got it,” Stephenson said.
Danny Webster can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected]. Follow Danny on Twitter at twitter.com/DannyWebster21.