Kessel Ready to Choose

Phil Kessel, the 17-year-old highly-touted U.S.-born phenom, has set a news conference for Friday at the U.S. National Team Development Program headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he announce a decision on where he will play next season.

The Friday news conference date is in contrast to an earlier report, in the Wisconsin State Journal, that it would be held Thursday.

Kessel, projected by many to be a possible No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, has held off on making a decision until after the season was over with the U.S. under-18 team. He has been courted by most major programs, and has been said to be leaning towards either Wisconsin or Minnesota.

According to a report in today’s Wisconsin State Journal, Kessel, a native of Madison, Wis., Kessel will choose to play for the Gophers. The paper cites multiple sources close to the family. Kessel has indicated before that he would definitely go to college, but he has kept the option open of playing in the OHL for Saginaw, which owns his rights.

The State Journal indicates that, according to Phil Kessel Sr., his son will call Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves and Minnesota coach Don Lucia today to tell them about his decision.

Despite flirting with Boston University and Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota were always the two most likely choices.

Kessel’s parents are long-time Badgers season-ticket holders and he grew up next door to Wisconsin athletic director and football coach Barry Alvarez. He is also close to incoming freshman defenseman Garrett Suter, and the entire storied Suter family.

On the other hand, Kessel’s girlfriend is attending Minnesota next fall, according to the State Journal. And conventional wisdom holds that the speedy Kessel would prefer Minnesota’s more open offensive approach.

Kessel has been watched closely the whole season, and impressed this winter with a standout performance for Team USA at the World Junior Championships.