After notching his 24th point on the year last night, Phil Kessel continued his prolific campaign as the Penguins hottest player right now.

When you think about superstar players that regularly hoist their teams over their shoulders and carry them through the hardships of October, November, and December, many big names come to mind. You have the Connor McDavid’s turning heads in Edmonton, Patrick Kane’s and Alex Ovechkin’s lighting up goalies in Chicago and Washington, and the dynamic pairings of the league like Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. And in Pittsburgh, seeing Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin at the top of the stat sheets has become custom to Penguins fans.

What you don’t expect is a dark horse guy consistently showing that he’s the hottest player on the team right now, while also ensuring that the Pens stay up in the standings. This is the current state of Pittsburgh’s offensive leader Phil Kessel, and it isn’t even close.

Kessel is currently tied with Johnny Gaudreau for third in the NHL in total points accrued thus far with 24, only being beaten out by the seemingly unstoppable Stamkos (31) and Kucherov (30) down in Tampa Bay. He has nine points in the past five games Pittsburgh has played and boasts a hearty eight goals and 16 assists for himself.

Kessel’s also be the hero in a couple overtimes, two of them being in back-to-back OT-winners. And in Tuesday’s matchup with the Buffalo Sabres, Kessel notched the game-tying goal thanks to a gorgeous feed by Malkin to send the contest into overtime, eventually having it end in a victory thanks to Conor Sheary.

Not only has Kessel be phenomenal, he’s been a constant, steady presence that’s undoubtedly been keeping the Penguins in contention within the rest of the Metro. His durability is best exemplified in knowing that Kessel has played in all 233 games since signing with Pittsburgh back in 2015. It’s scary to think about where this team would be without his reliable performance.

At this point, he’s on pace to tally 33 goals and 98 points, which are numbers you’d normally expect the captain to be putting up on a season. Kessel has also registered at least one point in 16 of Pittsburgh’s 20 games, which is stunning when you think about he type of player his is.

But that’s just it. There’s something different about this year’s Phil Kessel. He’s been more noticeable in the defensive zone, and he rounds that part of his game out with being in perfect position to score goals on the opposite side of the ice.

Things are seeming like they’re getting back on track for the Penguins offense, and if Kessel can continue playing at this level and have it be complemented by the other top guys on this Pittsburgh team, the latter half of the season is going to be a complete 180-flip from what we’ve seen just a fourth of the way through.

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