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The hockey world’s been awfully hard on Phil Kessel

Toronto Maple Leafs Players During Practice

Phil Kessel

Toronto Star via Getty Images

The 2015 All-Star Game’s fantasy draft almost felt like a greatest hits compilation for Phil Kessel mockery.

Jonathan Toews made a lighthearted reference to how “coach-able” Kessel may or may not be. Merely picking him first was a reference to Kessel being the original final selection of an All-Star Game fantasy draft. The ribbing only continued when he was once again “traded” for Tyler Seguin.

As amusing as some of this stuff is, perhaps it should also prompt a moratorium on Kessel mockery. Let’s face it, the 27-year-old’s been receiving a disproportionate amount of grief for basically his entire NHL career.

Exaggerated character concerns

In fact, the Kessel-bashing started even before he played his first game.

At some point, he was considered possibly the first pick of the 2006 NHL Draft, yet he left a bad impression. Brian Burke referred to a pre-draft interview as “pathetic” and Kessel slid modestly to the Boston Bruins with the fifth choice.

Despite generating a 36-goal season in his last campaign with Boston, it was a bumpy ride with the Bruins, especially when he was a healthy scratch during the 2008 playoffs. (It’s oddly fitting that a player whose “style doesn’t suit the postseason” currently has 21 points in 22 career postseason games ...)

What Kessel can and cannot control

Anyway, his eventual departure from Boston - partially a money decision, partially because maybe he didn’t mesh well with head coach Claude Julien, among other potential factors - really escalated the mockery.

Even though he’s been the 15th most productive point producer in the NHL since joining the Maple Leafs, Kessel’s been a punching bag for most of that time, whether it’s people lambasting him for the (first) Seguin trade or scapegoating him for Toronto’s many problems.

Here’s the real question, though: how much of any of this is Kessel’s fault?

Whatever flaws he might exhibit, he’s generated 30+ goals in every full season (ignoring the 48-game campaign, when he was on his typically impressive pace) since his final year with the Bruins. He’s certainly had his moments with the media, but has he done so to such a degree to justify so much flack?

Much, if not all, of the grief he received this weekend was in good fun. Still, it seems odd how many people forget that Kessel deserves the respect of ... you know, a perennial All-Star.

Follow James O’Brien @cyclelikesedins