NHL

Phil Kessel might miss start of NHL season after hand surgery

Pittsburgh forward Phil Kessel had hand surgery July 8 and isn't a lock to suit up Oct. 13 when the Penguins open defence of their Stanley Cup championship against the visiting Washington Capitals.

Ex-Maple Leafs winger led Penguins in playoff scoring

Phil Kessel continues his recovery from July hand surgery and might not get a chance to carry his strong 2016 playoff performance into the Penguins’ season opener against Washington on Oct. 13. (Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images/File)

Phil Kessel might not get a chance to carry his NHL playoff MVP-worthy performance into the Pittsburgh Penguins' season opener.

The speedy right-winger had hand surgery on July 8 and isn't a lock to suit up Oct. 13 when the Penguins open defence of their Stanley Cup championship against the recently married Alex Ovechkin and the visiting Washington Capitals.

"At this point, based on where he's tracking, yes [Kessel would be OK to start the season]," Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford told reporters on Monday. "But with surgery like that, you can't say 100 per cent for sure.

"Even if [his return is] not for the start of the season, it wouldn't be that much time."

Kessel, 28, reportedly dealt with the hand injury all of last season, though he scored a combined 36 goals in the regular season and playoffs.

He was in the running for the Conn Smythe Trophy in June, won by teammate Sidney Crosby, after leading the Penguins in playoff scoring with 22 points on a team-leading 10 goals and 12 assists while recording at least a point in 16 of his 24 playoff outings.

But it wasn't a memorable start for him in a Penguins uniform after Rutherford acquired the 10-year NHL veteran in a July 1, 2015 trade from Toronto.

In his first 23 games through November, Kessel managed only seven goals and 15 points while juggling linemates.

But everything changed for Kessel, who has played in 528 consecutive NHL contests, after joining the "HBK Line" with Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino. He proved to be a clutch performer with 14 goals and 34 points in his final 39 regular-season games.

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