Hockey Night in Canada

NHL

Phil Kessel, former Leaf, starting fresh with Penguins

Phil Kessel joined the Penguins at training camp Friday, ready to play alongside centres Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Forward savouring chance to play with Crosby, Malkin

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel, left, skates with Adam Clendening, right, and Sergei Gonchar, centre, as they warm up during training camp on Friday in Cranberry Township, Pa. (Keith Srakocic/The Associated Press)

Phil Kessel joined the Penguins at training camp Friday, ready to play alongside centres Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

"It's pretty special," he said. "It's a great opportunity for myself and I'm going to try to take full advantage of it. I'm excited to get to play with the guys in this locker room. There are some good players in here."

Pittsburgh acquired Kessel, forward Tyler Biggs and defenceman Tim Erixon from the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1 for forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Nick Spaling, defenceman Scott Harrington and two conditional draft picks.

Kessel has spent nine years in the NHL. His last six were with Toronto, where he averaged more than 30 goals per season.

The Penguins plan to place Kessel on Crosby's right side Tuesday when he makes his pre-season debut against the Carolina Hurricanes. He is expected to spend time as the right wing alongside both Crosby and Malkin before a decision is made on where he'll start the regular season Oct. 8 against the Dallas Stars.

Forward Patric Hornqvist, who had 25 goals and 51 points in his first season with the Penguins last year, said he doesn't think it matters where a player like Kessel is slotted.

"Who cares?" Hornqvist said. "He's a great player. And [Malkin and Crosby] are probably the two best centremen in the world. He knows Sid is a little more straight line — he likes to take it to the net — and [Malkin] is more pull up, hold onto the puck and try to find those small plays around the net. They're both great and he's going to have fun here."

Crosby, since he has been in Pittsburgh, has never played next to as skilled a right wing as Kessel. But, like Hornqvist, he says Kessel's position is not crucial.

"We're excited to have him," Crosby said. "I think [Malkin] and I are both going to see some time with him. We'll see what happens, but regardless of who he plays with, he's a great player. Guys who can score like that aren't easy to come by, so it's nice to have him and we'll see how things end up."

Because of perceived character issues from his time in Toronto, Kessel's ability can be overlooked when discussing the NHL's elite talent. Crosby thinks Kessel hasn't been given sufficient credit.

"I think that's fair to say," Crosby said. "I think even his playmaking ability is underrated, but he does a lot of things well. His speed and shot stick out the most. But, like I said, guys who can score like he can, they don't come around often."

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