Fast forward five months into the 2015-16 season, however, and Kessel's impact was given a lukewarm response by Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford. Kessel has collected 16 goals and 19 assists in 55 games for the Penguins, who acquired him in a six-player deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1.
"Phil's done OK. You always want more from him, because you know what the talent level is and how he can score."
Kessel is on pace for 24 goals, which is one shy of his total from last season with the struggling Maple Leafs and his lowest mark since his first two campaigns with the Boston Bruins.
The 28-year-old's goal total is third-best on the team - trailing captain Sidney Crosby (24) and Evgeni Malkin (23) while his 35 points are behind Crosby (53), Malkin (49) and defenseman Kris Letang (40).
Sullivan: "I'm glad for Phil. We're obviously a better team when he scores. He had some steam on it. I think his release got the goalie."
Kessel initially struggled when paired with Crosby before settling in while playing alongside Malkin. Kessel, in fact, has recorded 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in his last 19 contests for the Penguins (28-19-8), who are vying for the final postseason berth in the Eastern Conference.
Signed through the 2021-22 season, Kessel was acquired with forward Tyler Biggs, defenseman Tim Erixon and a 2016 second-round selection from Toronto. The Maple Leafs received forwards Nick Spaling, Kasperi Kapanen, blue-liner Scott Harrington and first- and third-round picks in the upcoming draft.