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Thanks in large part to a couple of talented teenagers, the World Hockey Championship is more interesting than usual, and some would say, more compelling than the Stanley Cup playoffs.

So “thumbs up” to Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. They were reasons to watch the IIHF event just by competing in it, but they have done a lot more than that. Entering the semi-final round, Matthews’ five goals for the United States put him in a fourth-place tie among tourney leaders in that category, and Finland’s Laine is tied at the top with seven.

Needless to say, they have done nothing to change anyone’s mind that they are the two best players available in the upcoming NHL draft. Despite the scoring numbers that favour Laine, Toronto has no intention of passing on Matthews with the number-one pick, and Winnipeg will happily claim Laine as a consolation prize.

Meanwhile, there is more to be seen from the two whiz kids in today’s semi-final games at St. Petersburg, Russia.

It would take a clear upset by the Americans, and a considerably milder one by the Finns, to see Matthews and Laine in the gold medal game. Canada and Russia are expected to be the finalists, and when has that matchup ever disappointed? This time, it might be a letdown if they don’t meet, but that would mean that one or both of Matthews and Laine would be playing for gold, even before they take the first step on the road to NHL riches.

And that would be quite something.

Third Time Lucky

Phil Kessel has 17 points in 15 playoff games and the only forward above him on the post-season scoring list is San Jose’s Logan Couture, with 20. They don’t spend any time in Toronto or Boston wondering if this could have happened for Kessel there, because it didn’t, and it couldn’t.

Embedded ImageSave your time developing various theories and just realize that Kessel was a 30-goal scorer for the first time at the age of 21 in Boston and four more times into his mid-20s in Toronto and yet, for whatever reason or no reason, he was unable to shake the critics in either place.

Pittsburgh is the third time lucky, and it happens that way sometimes.

The Penguins didn’t trade for him without expecting good things, but there’s no honesty in an answer that claims they figured he might win the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Kessel’s road to real success mirrors that of many coaches, who just happen to do their best work at a third job after getting fired from their first two. If Pittsburgh manages to advance to the Stanley Cup final and faces San Jose, Kessel could compare notes with Sharks’ coach Peter DeBoer.

Embedded ImageDeBoer began in Florida by losing only 30 times in regulation and left the Panthers two years later after winning only 30 times.

He was an immediate hit in his first year with New Jersey, taking the Devils to the Stanley Cup final. Halfway into his fourth year, he was gone.

And now DeBoer is in charge of a team picked by some to go all the way, and no one is a bit surprised that DeBoer could be the catalyst for a team that has disappointed more people than Phil Kessel.

Both coach and player have learned from where they’ve been and what they’ve done. They were always good, and now they’re better.

It’s a good story if one of them lifts the Stanley Cup. “Thumbs up” to both for getting this far.