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Phil Kessel is struggling to start this season, but why?

Can he right the ship?

USA Today/Pete Rogers Illustrations

To say that fantasy owners are disappointed with Phil Kessel’s opening month is an understatement. Fresh off three consecutive seasons in Pittsburgh where he scored 23+ goals and 70+ points, Phil moved to Arizona in the offseason where they hoped he could help Arizona return to the playoffs after seven consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs. Ironically, the last time they made the playoffs in 2012, they made it to the conference finals before losing to the Kings who went on to win their first of two Stanley Cups this decade. Phil started this season being owned by 99% of leagues and he is now owned in 86% of leagues and it seems to be dipping 1-2% each day.

Arizona as a whole has seen success, their current 11-6-2 record is good enough for 2nd best in Pacific just ahead of Vancouver and Calgary. They have the 16th most goals for in the league (56) and the 2nd fewest goals against in the league (46). If you told me these numbers in the preseason, I would speculate that their success was due to Clayton Keller and Phil Kessel lighting the lamp, yet only Clayton sits among the top players in points on the team (13 pts is good enough for 2nd most behind Nick Schmaltz) and neither of them are among the top four goal scorers on the team (that honor belongs to Conor Garland, Christian Dvorak, Michael Grabner and Carl Soderberg). All the while, they are the top two on the team in shots sharing the privilege at 51 shots apiece. Phil’s current 5.9% shooting is good enough for lowest on his career and well below the 12.6%, 13% and 10% he had over the last three seasons. We are now almost 25% of the way into the season and Phil sits at 3 goals and just 10 points, a pace that would put him below 13 goals and 50 points on the season.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Arizona Coyotes Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Part of it comes down to his bread and butter in terms of types of shots. He likes to take a lot of wrist shots but it’s his snap shot that puts him among the highest scorers over that same three year gap that I previously referenced. He had 169 snap shots (27% of his 626 shots over that time) and 28 goals over that time span vs. 376 wrist shots (60% of his shots) and 47 goals. This year he has taken 51 total shots and among those he has 35 wrist shots (68% of his shots) with all three of his goals coming off those wrist shots. He has meanwhile taken just 7 snap shots (13% of his shots) with no goals off of those. I have to add that some of this derives from benefiting from Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby shot deflections which can require a quick snap shot to put it away, some of it is he’s not hitting the bogey on his shots this year.

Phil isn’t generally slow start to seasons either: last year he has seven goals and 15 points in October and 3 goals and 13 points in November. Two years ago he had 4 goals and 13 points in October and 7 goals and 19 points in November, three years ago he had 3 goals and 9 points in October and 3 goals and 12 points in November. Those strong starts add to my concern in this season he has 2 goals and 7 points in October and just 1 goal and 3 points in November so far. I will add November is a tough schedule with Edmonton, Calgary, Washington, St. Louis and Colorado headlining some difficult defenses that Arizona has to battle through.

He is not surrounded by the stars that he once was and for that he won’t be seeing the 70 point seasons anymore. With that said, it’s not unrealistic to expect him to hit 20 goals and 50+ points as he works to get pack into the flow with the Coyotes. Their schedule is tough to finish November so it might be until December to see him start to score again.