PITTSBURGH - Phil Kessel spent six seasons toiling in relative anonymity in Toronto, one of the best players on a franchise that has struggled to find its footing.
Now the three-time All-Star will get a chance to work alongside two of the best players in the world.
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The Maple Leafs sent the 27-year-old Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday in a blockbuster deal that gives the Penguins a needed boost in its top six and gives the Maple Leafs some flexibility as they begin to retool under new coach Mike Babcock.
The Penguins sent forward prospect Kasperi Kapanen, forward Nick Spaling, defenseman Scott Harrington and a 2016 third-round pick to the Maple Leafs for Kessel, forward Tyler Briggs and defenseman Tim Erixon. Conditional draft picks are also involved.
Pittsburgh began the first day of NHL free agency by sending away a part of its future for a veteran it hopes will have no trouble fitting in while playing with former MVPs Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Kessel has 247 goals and 273 assists in nine seasons between Boston and Toronto, including 25 goals and 36 assists for the Maple Leafs in 2014-15.
His presence will provide Crosby and Malkin with a capable scorer still in his prime. Injuries devastated Pittsburgh's depth last season. The Penguins struggled to score goals for long stretches and fell to the New York Rangers in five games in the opening round of the playoffs.
Pittsburgh believes forward Pascal Dupuis will be back in 2015-16 after missing most of last season with blood clots in his lungs. While Dupuis has proven effective when teamed with Crosby, Kessel's arrival gives Crosby a proven finisher. Kessel is also one of the more durable players in the league. He hasn't missed a game in five seasons.
The Penguins also signed Russian forward Sergei Plotnikov on Wednesday. The 25-year-old forward agreed to a one-year deal. Plotnikov had 15 goals and 21 assists for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the KHL last season.