Claude Julien praises Leafs' Phil Kessel

On Thursday, Claude Julien, shown here in 2008 with Phil Kessel, praised the maturity of the ex-Bruin and current Maple Leaf. AP Photo/Lisa Poole

The word around the Bruins was that current Toronto Maple Leafs winger Phil Kessel -- who enters Saturday night's game against Boston leading the NHL in goals (10) and points (21) -- butted heads with Bruins head coach Claude Julien during his three seasons with Boston. An offensive-minded player, Kessel struggled to adapt to the two-way system of Julien and was even a healthy scratch in the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs, reportedly due to his attitude and unwillingness to play within Julien's system. But two full seasons removed from his stint in Boston, the 24-year-old Kessel -- whom the Bruins drafted fifth overall in the 2006 NHL draft -- is flourishing, and his former coach had nothing but praise for him recently.

"Phil's matured," Julien said after practice Thursday. "Just like any other player he's getting older and when I say he's matured, [it's] as a person I'm sure. As a player you can see it. He's a lot stronger hanging on to the puck than he ever was. He shoots the puck and he's finding ways to get shots off. Every game he has a lot of opportunities, so he's becoming a better player with age."

Kessel has often had strong starts and then faded or become streaky as the season wears on, but Julien sees a more determined player now.

"He's off to a good start and right now the only thing that everybody kind of wants to see is whether he's able to sustain it or not," Julien said. "But definitely he's a better player, and I don't think that was ever in question that he would become a better player. That's what I see, [he's] stronger on the puck and has a lot of confidence right now."