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Kessel v. Seguin an unfair comparison - for now

One year out, the returns on the Phil Kessel trade are far from complete - although early comparisons are certainly tempting for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The player at the heart of the deal, for one, has come as advertised, with Kessel proving he's one of the top pure goal scorers in the league, scoring seven goals in eight games to start the season despite playing on a team thin on offensive talent.

Kessel has also come into this season hungrier and healthier than before, looking improved enough from his days with the Boston Bruins to potentially put himself among the NHL's goal-scoring leaders by season's end.

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Boston, meanwhile, sunk to new goal-scoring lows last season without him, and, to date, has only a green 18-year-old to show for their loss.

Drafted second overall in June and pegged as a can't-miss star, Tyler Seguin has been worked in slowly by Bruins coach Claude Julien in the early going, with the Brampton, Ont., native playing only 13 minutes a night.

Six games into his career, he's merely learning the NHL game on a third line alongside 42-year-old greybeard Mark Recchi, who was well into his fourth NHL season when Seguin was born and will serve as the sort of surrogate hockey father that has become common in the league as younger and younger players make an impact.

Seguin has a goal and two assists so far, but remains a work in progress under a coach well known for his intense attention to defensive detail.

"Right now, you certainly can't expose him against top lines," Julien told a local ESPN reporter. "That much I think we're all unanimous on.

"He's a guy that I feel that whenever he gets the puck and you give him some space, he's a dangerous player, but obviously there's more to the game than that. But he's finding and feeling his way through that."

Finding his way may even involve a return trip to the OHL's Plymouth Whalers - a decision Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli is preparing for as Seguin nears the 10-game cutoff to prolonging his entry-level deal by sending him back.

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If he suits up for that 10th game, he is in Boston to stay as - and be paid like - an NHLer.

"Right now, he's doing everything he has to do to remain for the year," Chiarelli said during an appearance on a Montreal radio station this week. "We haven't made that decision yet, but we're close to making it."

If Seguin is sent down - or even struggles through a trying rookie season - there are sure to be cheers in Toronto as the heady early days of the Kessel era continue to pay off in the standings.

This is one of those rare deals, however, that will be debated in barrooms in both cities for years to come.

There is, after all, another draft pick to come - with placing to be determined by how high these Leafs can climb - and six regular-season meetings between the teams every season to weigh the particulars.

Kessel was a complete non-factor against his former team last season, going scoreless and looking overwhelmed in six meetings with the Bruins and big captain Zdeno Chara. Thursday night will be his first chance this season to finally put a goal or two past a former teammate while boos rain down from the Beantown crowd.

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At the other end of the ice, this will all be new for Seguin, who will have to deal with overwhelming interest from the visiting media and a spotlight firmly on him and Kessel in a direct comparison that he realizes really isn't fair.

"I think it's a little too early right now to do that," Seguin said Wednesday, noting he grew up cheering for the Leafs to win it all. "Phil's much older. He's on the top line. He's already earned his stripes and I'm just a guy who's what - six games into my career? So it's a little bit different."

In time, it won't be. Two or three or maybe even four years down the line, Seguin should evolve into one of the Bruins' top-line forwards, to be matched against Phil the Thrill, to use what he learned in these formative years to try to shut down his Toronto counterpart.

And the debate - and a suddenly rekindled, Original Six rivalry - will rage on.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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