Kessel named NHL's First Star

December 15, 2008 - 6:07 am

There are plenty of shinning beacons serving as great examples of the masterful job that Claude Julien has done coaching this Bruins team, but perhaps no example is more dazzlingly brilliant or as stunning as the complete transformation of Phil Kessel. The 21-year-old has a Beckett-like stubborness when it comes to his considerable hockey abilities -- a trait that allows him to think that no one will beat him on the ice and can sometimes make people think that the youngster is cocky -- and he'll never admit that hitting the bench in the playoffs was a learning experience for him. But it's undoubtable that Kessel learned a valuable lesson by sitting for two of the Stanley Cup playoff games against the Montreal Canadiens, and that incident served as a bit of a wake-up call to a young player evolving and maturing at the NHL. Credit Julien with a big helping hand in the education of an elite young hockey player. The right wing now does all of the little things required from one of your best hockey players, and he's put together the all-around hockey game with a veritable offensive explosion. For a team desperately in need of a goal-scorer, Kessel has already matched his output from last season and is on pace to be Boston's first 50 goal scorer since Cam Neely. One more other amazing tidbit: Kessel has played in 155 straight hockey games since returning from testicular cancer during the 2005-06 season, and shown an amazing durability and sturdiness in his 6-foot, 189-pound frame. With that in mind, Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Petr Sykora and Buffalo Sabres left wing Thomas Vanek were named the NHL's 'Three Stars' for the week ending Sunday, Dec 14 -- with Kessel taking honors as the First Star. FIRST STAR -- PHIL KESSEL, RW, BOSTON BRUINS: Kessel tallied eight points (three goals, five assists) and extended his point streak to 15 games as the Bruins went 3-1-0, improving their Eastern Conference-leading record to 21-5-4. Kessel recorded one goal and one assist in a 5-3 victory over Tampa Bay Dec. 8, notched an assist in a 3-1 loss at Washington Dec. 10, tallied a goal and two assists in a 7-3 win at Atlanta Dec. 12 and closed the week with a goal and an assist in a 4-2 win over the Thrashers Dec. 13. Kessel's point streak is a career high, the longest in the NHL this season and longest by a Bruins player since Adam Oates recorded points in 20 consecutive games from Jan. 7 to Feb. 20, 1997. The 21-year-old Madison, Wisconsin native is second in Bruins scoring with 31 points (19 goals, 12 assists) in 30 games, ranks third in the NHL in goals and already has matched his career high of 19 goals set last season. SECOND STAR -- PETR SYKORA, RW, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: Sykora recorded eight points (three goals, five assists) in four games, beginning with a pair of assists in a 4-3 loss against Buffalo Dec. 8. He recorded his first career NHL hat trick and added one assist in a 9-2 victory over the New York Islanders Dec. 11 and recorded two assists in a 6-3 loss at Philadelphia Dec. 13. The 13-year NHL veteran had entered the Islanders game with 282 career NHL goals, the most among active players who had not recorded a hat trick. THIRD STAR -- THOMAS VANEK, LW, BUFFALO SABRES: Vanek notched a League-leading five goals, including two game-winning tallies, as the Sabres won three of four games. He scored the game-winning goal and became the first player to hit the 20-goal mark in a 4-3 win against Pittsburgh Dec. 8, notched two goals, including the game-winner, in a 4-2 win over Tampa Bay Dec. 10 and scored twice more in a 4-2 win at New Jersey Dec. 13. Vanek leads the NHL in goals with 24, three more than Philadelphia's Jeff Carter, and has scored the highest percentage of his team'€™s goals this season (24/81, 29.6%).