By SARAH BAICKER
By SARAH BAICKER
“Kessel” on the back of a hockey jersey isn’t a foreign sight for fans of the NHL – after all, Toronto winger Phil Kessel has been in the NHL since 2006 and represented the Maple Leafs at the All-Star Game last year.
But not everyone knows there’s another Kessel lurking around the sport. Blake Kessel, 22, is a defenseman who the Flyers signed to an entry-level contract Wednesday, a two-year deal with a cap hit of $925,000 each year. The Islanders draft pick turned free agent chose to leave the University of New Hampshire before his senior year in order to turn pro.
“At least it’s a little risk,” Kessel said. “But it’s always been my goal to eventually play at the top level, and sometimes you’ve got to take risks to get there. It’s something where I feel that I’m ready to make a jump to a higher level.
“Obviously I’m not thinking that I want to play in the NHL, but it’s steps along the way. And I know that I want to develop as a player, so this is the best way to do it.”
Kessel was drafted by the Islanders in 2007, but never signed a contract with them.
He elected to accept a tryout offer with the Flyers because, he said, the team’s management said they were interested in obtaining more defensive prospects. The Islanders, he added, had at least 15 or 16 prospects on defense that would likely be given a look before him.
Kessel doesn’t know where he’ll end up this season, but he’s starting it here at Skate Zone in Voorhees, where he’s been skating alongside another Flyers defensive prospect, Oliver Lauridsen, during rookie camp.
The chance to get more game experience fueled Kessel’s decision to leave UNH (which, for the record, is also James van Riemsdyk’s alma mater. The two did play together while in school).
“You’re going to have more games with some better players, and it’s going to improve you, having to battle each day with guys that are very talented,” he said. “Just getting those 82 games in or whatever, wherever it may be, is going to be more beneficial than the 40 or so I might get in college.”
Because he’s a defenseman, Kessel isn’t compared as much to his brother as, say, the Sedin twins of Vancouver (both forwards) are pitted against one another. But, he said, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
“It is [nice not to be compared to Phil] but it isn’t at the same time,” he said. “It’d be nice to be compared to him a little bit, I guess. Obviously he’s a great player and I love him to death. It’s nice to get to play against him, though – that’s the incentive.”
And there’s a chance Kessel will get the opportunity to face off against his older brother next week. The Flyers’ first two preseason games (next Tuesday and Wednesday) are against the Maple Leafs.
The thought of playing against his brother wearing Flyers orange has definitely crossed his mind already.
“If that happens, that’d be very exciting,” he said, smiling. “I’d like to get out there on the ice with him again, I’ve always dreamed of that, and it would be nice to maybe put a hit on him.
“My mom and my dad would probably be against it, because they’d be too nervous watching it in case something would happen out there. But him and I think we’d like it.”
Flyers center Brayden Schenn also has a brother, Luke, who plays for the Leafs. So there’s a possibly two sets of brothers could square off once or twice next week. If the Kessels do get to take the ice together, there will be more than a preseason W on the line – and that’s likely for both sets of brothers.
“When he comes down, one on one,” Kessel said about Phil, “whoever wins that battle obviously gets bragging rights for a couple of days.”