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Kessel ‘marches to his own drum’: Tocchet

Rick Tocchet, nicknamed ‘the Phil Kessel Whisperer’ for his unique relationship with the quirky star, says the winger is going to be fine addition to the Coyotes locker room.

“You know, not everybody is the same,” the coach told AZ Central this week when Kessel was acquired from Pittsburgh, Tocchet’s old team. “To win a Stanley Cup, you need different personalities. I’m not sure you can win with all the same. (Phil) had a personality in the dressing room that was infectious to Crosby, Letang, Malkin, all those guys.

“Phil has a personality of his own. He marches to his own drum like a lot of different guys. It’s just more publicized being in Toronto (where Kessel led the team in scoring, but detested the spotlight).”

Tocchet was a Penguins assistant coach from 2014-17, when they won the Cup twice and bantered with Kessel every morning at practice. Tocchet said that broke the ice with himself and younger players who might have been intimidated – and he didn’t mind Kessel taking such a familiar tone with a superior.   

“Phil’s a great person and a generous guy,” Tocchet said. “His teammates love him. Honestly, he’s a normal guy. He loves hockey and he’s a closet hockey nerd, although he doesn’t tell many people that. He really follows the game. He’s a guy that the young guys are going to like. He loosens up the dressing room.

“It’s not that he wants to prove anyone wrong because people throw daggers at him, it’s just that he hates the noise. His play will shut the noise up, as it has in the past.”

A BIG DEAL IN BIG APPLE

In New York, Artemi Panarin is embracing the big-city spotlight, his name featured on the Madison Square Garden marquee when he was introduced to the media this week. He signed for seven years at $81.5 million US.

“Not only are we getting a great player, we’re getting a guy that’s got an electric personality, and is going to bring a little bit of personality to the locker room,” coach Dave Quinn said. “And that’s something we needed.

“He’s as dynamic a player as there is in the league. He’s a winger, but he does a lot of things a centre can do. He controls the play on the ice, he does a great job carrying the puck through the neutral zone and entering the offensive zone, and boy, when he’s on the ice, you’re going to know he’s out there, because from an offensive perspective, he creates every time he’s out there.”

Panarin, who is projected to start on a line with top scorer Mika Zibanejad, was offered more money by the Blue Jackets to stay, then bypassed lucrative deals from the Islanders and Panthers.

“I dreamed of playing for the Rangers,’’ Panarin said. “They’re in the Original Six (he was once a Chicago Blackhawk) and my heart has been here.”

SMASHVILLE IN TORONTO

More than 25 high-profile NHLers from all corners will return to Toronto on July 25, for Smashfest, a ping-pong-themed charity event. Held at Steam Whistle Brewery, tax deductible tickets and silent auction proceeds go towards concussion and rare cancer research. Almost $1 million has been raised the past seven years.

ICE CHIPS

Darryl Sutter now has the California hat trick of coaching, working in Los Angeles, where he won two Cups, before that for a couple of years in San Jose and now hired as a consultant in Anaheim. The 60-year-old was helping new Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins at their recent development camp … Flyers director of player development and former NHLer Kjell Samuelsson has sons Lukas and Mattias playing at the University of Western Michigan, which happens to be the same school two of Philly’s top prospects attend, forward Wade Allison and defenceman Ronnie Attard. The latter, a high scoring senior, is coming off a long recovery from knee surgery, but was a Hobey Baker finalist prior to the setback … They didn’t get Sebastien Aho, but the Canadiens signed forward Phil Varone to a one-year, two-way contract on Wednesday. He played 47 games in Philly last season … Anaheim has signed goalie Anthony Stolarz to a two-year deal and defenceman Jani Hakanpaa to a one-year contract … A spent bottle of champagne from the Blues is among the items collected from the new champions for a coming Hockey Hall Of Fame display. And for those keeping count, that’s 13 teams who’ve started from scratch and won the Cup since the Maple Leafs’ last one in 1967 … Veteran NHLer and minor-leaguer Colin Greening has retired.

lhornby@postmedia.com

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