Last season, Phil Kessel registered 14 of 24 assists in an 18-game span, with 10 more over 58 games. He battled an ugly 14-game goalless skid (14-0-3-3), three games before going down to a case of mono in January, and 11 games after his return.

    In short, assists aren’t his strong suit. He’s had more goals than assists in every season except his rookie season.

    Well, break your selfish streak, Mr. Kessel and you’ll break your slump. One assist at a time.

    Here’s how

    Goal scorers lose confidence in themselves and their scoring ability. When slumping, they’ll try to compensate by doing more on their own, and won’t recognize distribution options in hopes of breaking their hex, when, they should be doing the opposite.

    When playmakers slump, they tend to lose confidence in surrounding cast finishing ability and not necessarily in their own distribution skills. They’ll tend to force more on their own. When Daniel Sedin went down, Henrik’s goals scoring ability went up. He was shooting more and not using his linemates as much.

    Kessel doesn’t seem to have the same elite distribution skills (and could maybe incorporate this in practice .. hint hint) to complement his goal scoring ability and this is the biggest problems facing the young sniper.

    When he slumps it’s big … it’s noticeable. In the midst of a disastrous season, it’s downright close to reasons for revolt amongst fans.

    This is where a goal scorer can take advantage of his unique situation, that lessens the negativity around a slump and help his team as a whole.

    Kessel is fighting the increased pressure from opposition and should be playing smarter, not harder as Ron Wilson indicated in the over hyped screaming incident. It’s not work ethic, its strategy/mindset that has to change.

    What Kessel has to do is stop focusing on scoring goals and setting up his teammates instead.

    He has to start taking advantage of the attention he attracts from opposing players and look for the open man that should be in that space .. focus on assists. He’s had one assist in his last 12 goalless games and that came Saturday against Pittsburgh when scored with a quick release from the slot when the Penguins tried to double up on Kessel coverage in the corner.

    Working harder may break a slump but after the practice shouting incident, in Buffalo the next night, Kessel was still doing the same thing, carrying the puck, not looking for open men, dishing the puck off when there was no more skating room or clear cut shot.

    Clearly, working harder doing the same things that aren’t succeeding in the slump is not the answer. Something has to change.

    This is the difference between a pure one-dimensional player and a dynamic star.

    Slumping goal scorers attract no less attention from the opposition on a nightly basis. It’s the ability to score, not the results that coaches will focus on. Smart player will use that to their advantage. They can temporarily revert into playmakers.

    Maybe a partnership with another goal scorer like Ponikarovsky, or Blake would be the answer, to force distribution and open space for them. Stalberg and (recent player to be rumored to be called up) Tyler Bozak, could be other alternatives to help him, and the team out in the grand scheme.

    When a playmaker struggles they tend to try to force too much on their own, moving away from their vision and distribution skills into more individualized puck handling skils. They try to become goal scorers when that isn’t exactly their forte.

    One last note:

    It’s obvious without a training camp, and coming off shoulder surgery, Kessel would struggle at points during the season. It was expected. He couldn’t keep his torrid scoring pace, and he’s being relentlessly checked.

    Anyone who saw shots of him gasping for air in Buffalo see the indication of fitness levels, and along with Wayne Primeau did not participate in the off season fitness training regimen his teammates went through implemented by the management staff.

    Fitness is an issue that should also be straightened out this season. Overall, it doesn’t matter if he’s struggling at this point. Developing players – and he is still developing – will always require some tweaking along the way.