Kessel demoted to Leafs' 3rd line

Phil Kessel finds himself in unfamiliar territory. On Sunday, the youngster was demoted to the Toronto Maple Leafs' third line in practice by head coach Ron Wilson, a move Kessel wasn't thrilled about.

Phil Kessel is going through a tumultuous time in Toronto.

Just over a week after being the last pick at the NHL fantasy all-star draft, the youngster found himself demoted to the Maple Leafs' third line at practice on Sunday by head coach Ron Wilson, a move Kessel wasn't thrilled about.

The new-look third line of Kessel, Daryl Boyce and Joey Crabb should get its first game action on Monday night when the Leafs host the Atlanta Thrashers.

In the midst of a 10-game goalless drought — his longest as a Leaf — the former first-line winger, 23, was benched for stretches of Saturday night's 6-2 loss at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres.

Thrashers headed in wrong direction

The Thrashers have lost 10 of 12 and are tied with Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. The Hurricanes have two games in hand.

Atlanta was atop the Southeast Division after capping off a 12-2-2 run with the Dec. 20 victory in Toronto.

Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, chosen for the NHL all-star game, has not recorded a point in the last 13 games.

Kessel has 19 goals and 15 assists in 52 games this season with a minus-22 rating.

Several media outlets reported that Kessel said on Sunday, "It might not be working out here."

But it was unclear if he was talking about his line, which has usually included Tyler Bozak, or the team.

The news also comes in the wake of a player poll conducted by and the National Hockey League Players Association in which 318 NHL players were asked which coach they would least likely to play for.

When the results were released over the all-star weekend, the unlucky winner was Wilson.

While the relationship between Kessel and his coach seems rocky, Hockey Night in Canada's Kelly Hrudey said he understands the winger's frustrations.

"Everybody hates losing," Hrudey said. "And in such a market like Toronto where you have such scrutiny, I can imagine where your nerves get frayed a little bit and you maybe blurt out something that, in hindsight, you may not really feel."

Toronto general manager Brian Burke gave up first- and second-round NHL picks in 2010, and a first-rounder in the upcoming June entry draft, to acquire Kessel from Boston 18 months ago.

The Leafs proceeded to plummet in 2009-10, ultimately earning the Bruins the No. 2 pick which they used for Tyler Seguin.

Kessel has enjoyed decent success against the Thrashers in his career, with six goals and 10 assists in 18 games.