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Healthy Phil Kessel should boost Arizona Coyotes in return to NHL playoffs

The Arizona Coyotes’ Phil Kessel, left, takes the puck away from the Carolina Hurricanes’ Trevor van Riemsdyk during the second period in Raleigh, N.C., on Jan. 10. (AP file photo)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The start of Phil Kessel’s desert tenure did not go according to plan, for him or the Arizona Coyotes.

Expected to give the Coyotes a scoring jolt, Kessel instead labored, in large part due to a string of injuries.

The NHL’s pandemic-caused pause has give the 32-year-old right wing a chance to heal, putting him in position to have a much bigger impact when the Coyotes return to the ice.

“I feel good right now,” Kessel said during a video call this week. “I feel better than I did all year, so I’m excited. My body feels good, I feel rested. I’m going to be ready to go.”

The Coyotes pulled off the biggest move of the 2019 offseason, acquiring Kessel from Pittsburgh for center Alex Galchenyuk.

Arizona Coyotes right wing Phil Kessel skates in the first period against the New York Islanders on Feb. 17 in Glendale, Ariz. (AP file photo)

Kessel continued to be productive more than a decade into his NHL career, scoring 27 goals with 55 assists with the Penguins last season. He has scored at least 30 goals six times during his 13-year NHL career and had a career-high 92 points in 2017-18.

Kessel was expected to be the scoring piece the Coyotes had been missing since reaching the 2012 Western Conference Finals, their last playoff appearance.

Instead, Kessel showed flashes of his previous brilliance, yet never got on much of a scoring run. He suffered a groin injury early in the season and the pains kept coming.

Kessel didn’t miss a game, stretching his ironman streak to 844 straight games, sixth-longest in NHL history, yet he didn’t seem to have the same explosiveness he had in previous seasons.

When the NHL shut down due to the coronavirus on March 12, Kessel had 14 goals and 24 assists. More telling, he had five even-strength goals and was on pace to set a career low in shots.

“Obviously, I had a tough year,” said Kessel, who returned to Arizona from Florida three weeks ago. “I think it’s probably my most injuries I’ve had is this year, but that’s no excuse.”

Now healthy and refreshed, Kessel could give the Coyotes a big boost when the NHL season resumes. He won consecutive Stanley Cup titles with the Penguins and has 33 goals with 44 assists in 87 career playoff games.

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