Kessel finished his amateur career by playing collegiate hockey for the University of Minnesota in the WCHA. He was the fifth-overall pick of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, taken by the Boston Bruins. In his rookie season, he was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for overcoming testicular cancer and continuing to play. His college performance was less spectacular than expected; by season's end he was playing third-line minutes for the Minnesota Golden Gophers squad, though he did score 18 goals and finish with 51 total points. Kessel plays internationally for the United States, and represented them every year between 2003-2010 except 2009 due to a shoulder injury. At the 2010 Winter Olympics Kessel played in 6 games, recording a goal and an assist en route to a silver medal.