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Penguins

Penguins' Phil Kessel values Stanley Cups more than scoring title

Jonathan Bombulie
| Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, 2:12 p.m.

Tied for fourth in the league in scoring, 10 points back of Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov, there's an outside chance Penguins winger Phil Kessel could make a run at the NHL scoring title this season.

The time it took to read that paragraph is more time than Kessel has spent pondering that possibility.

Kessel has a reason he's not focused on adding an Art Ross Trophy to his resume.

“I got two Cups. It doesn't really matter,” Kessel said Friday, echoing the popular Internet meme that details how many championships the 30-year-old right wing has won.

Kessel held a rare session with reporters after practice Friday, the day before his old team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, visits PPG Paints Arena. Some of the topics Kessel touched on:

• When Kessel was traded to the Penguins in 2015, pundits theorized he might enjoy being in an environment where he wasn't the biggest star in the room.

That has indeed played out as expected.

“It's nice,” Kessel said. “I don't have to talk every day to you guys. I can kind of do my thing. I like that.”

Kessel said he still follows the fortunes of some of his friends on the Maple Leafs roster, but he no longer gets fired up to face his old team.

“I don't really care anymore,” Kessel said. “This is the third year. We won twice. It's in the past.”

• Kessel is in the midst of perhaps the best season of his career. He hasn't gone more than two games without hitting the scoresheet all year, and he's on pace for a career-high 91 points.

“It's been all right,” Kessel said. “There's some ups and downs. Altogether, it's been pretty good. We're starting to win now. Hopefully we can keep this momentum going and make the playoffs.”

The general consensus is Kessel has upped his commitment on the defensive end of the ice this season, but he blew off that suggestion.

“I don't change anything, so I don't know,” he said. “It is what it is.”

• Because the NHL and IIOC couldn't come to an agreement, Kessel is a spectator rather than a participant in the Winter Olympics in South Korea. There's one particular event he's keen on watching on TV.

“Obviously I follow my sister,” Kessel said of Amanda, a forward for the U.S. “That's what I care most about. I've been following her. I've tried to catch a couple of their games. That's kind of my main Olympic thing.”

Kessel said he finds it hard to keep his trademark calm demeanor when watching Amanda.

“I want them to win, obviously,” Kessel said. “I'm not out there playing, so I'm way more nervous for that than me playing, to be honest, and I'm hoping they can win.”

Kessel rarely shows emotion while doing interviews these days, but his pride in his sister was impossible to hide.

“Obviously it's special,” he said. “She's a great player, and I'm very proud of her. It's nice to watch her. I was able to play in Sochi when she was there, too. Hopefully they're going to get it done this year.”

• After reportedly telling AT&T SportsNet's Bob Errey that Dion Phaneuf had been traded during Tuesday's game, Kessel was asked if he has a future as a news-breaking hockey insider.

It didn't take him long to answer.

“I don't think I'll have anything to do with the news when I'm done,” Kessel said.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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