Soft-spoken at the best of times, Phil Kessel answered a little more than two minutes of questions from a huge group of media this afternoon in Boston, his voice rising not all that much above a whisper as he recalled his time with the Bruins.
"I loved it here," Kessel said. "The city was great to me, the fans were great to me. I loved playing here. Great teammates here. Obviously it didn't work out, but that happens."
No hard feelings, in other words.
"I don't want to stick it to them," Kessel said. "I want to obviously play well, right?"
Phil the Thrill had a solid opening season last year in Toronto with 30 goals, 55 points and a minus-8 rating in 70 games, but against his former team, he wan't very good. Kessel went goalless and had only one assist in the six games and was a minus-5, looking a bit overwhelmed by all the attention while playing back in Boston.
Thursday night is the first of six meetings between the teams this season, and Kessel's teammates all said they realize how big of a game it is for their leading scorer. They added, however, that they didn't think nerves would be a problem for him.
"I don't I've ever seen him nervous on the ice or before a game or anything like that," said Leafs centre Tyler Bozak, Kessel's closest friend on the team. "He's a pretty calm guy. I'm not too worried about him, I think he's going to be good. It's a new year here. I think last year was [a little different]since it was the first year since he left that team, but I think he'll be fine."
"Phil's Phil," defenceman Luke Schenn said. "You see him out there, he doesn't change, no matter who he's playing or who's watching. Kess has got his own style out there and he'll turn it up for the game tonight hopefully."
The other sidebar to all of this is obviously the whole Tyler Seguin connection, something covered off in my piece from today's paper.
Even Leafs coach Ron Wilson weighed in on that debate today, saying his team is happy with the return it got in the deal made last September.
"Well Phil Kessel's got seven goals, Tyler's got what one?" Wilson said. "That's a trade you talk about five years from now, when Tyler Seguin's a full-time NHL player. I don't think Tyler right now is nearly as good as Phil. We've given up a couple years with Phil but he scored 30 goals last year. He's probably going to score 40 to 50 goals this year so we're happy with what we have right now for sure [out of that trade]"
Spotlight on Seguin
One's first impression of Seguin is just how terrific of shape he's in. He is listed at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, but this isn't a scrawny 18-year-old who needs to dramatically improve his physique to make an impact at the NHL level.
He looks (and sounds) ready to go and is ahead of where Steve Stamkos was in his first NHL season.
"It's been a big jump [from the OHL]" Seguin said after the Bruins morning skate. "There's a lot of different things you have to adjust to, the size, the speed, the typical quote of boys to men. I've had to adapt a lot."
Leafs winger Kris Versteeg is fighting a back issue that has been bothering him for at least a few days, and he wasn't on the ice in the morning skate. He was getting extensive treatment for the problem after practice on Monday, which was the first time we learned there was an issue.
Wilson said he expects Versteeg will play but that a final decision won't be made until just prior to the game. John Mitchell will draw into Versteeg's spot if he can't play and Mike Zigomanis will centre the fourth line.
Luca Caputi, meanwhile, will play his first game of the season on the third line in place of the injured Colby Armstrong (finger surgery). The Bruins are missing Marc Savard (concussion), Marco Sturm (knee surgery) and Johnny Boychuk (broken arm).
Jonas Gustavsson gets his third start of the season for Toronto. Boston will stick with Tim Thomas, who has been terrific this season.
Kulemin - Bozak - Kessel Versteeg - Grabovski - MacArthur Sjostrom - Brent - Caputi Brown - Mitchell - Orr
Phaneuf - Beauchemin Kaberle - Schenn Lebda - Komisarek
Horton - Krejci - Lucic Marchand - Campbell - Thornton Caron - Bergeron - Wheeler Recchi - Seguin - Ryder
Chara - Ference Hunwick - Seidenberg McQuaid - Stuart