Kassian has motivation to move from Canucks project to prime-time player
VANCOUVER — The lasting impression Zack Kassian made in Vancouver last NHL season wasn’t good, so it’s encouraging that there’s a bad memory stuck in the big right winger’s brain. When the Canucks were shoved to the sidelines in just five playoff games last spring, Kassian was sitting in the press box instead of the players’ bench.
“I still have a sour taste left in my mouth not playing in the last game,” he said Thursday following an informal skate at UBC that included teammates Manny Malhotra, Dale Weise and Jason Garrison. “I remember those things and I want to prove myself. You’re mad and upset, but at the same time you know if you’re not playing good someone else is going to come in. It’s in the back of my mind and makes me hungry.”
It should because the Canucks have long lacked a true budding power forward.
Mike Gillis believes there’s top-six potential in Kassian and that’s why the Canucks general manager was willing to part with centre Cody Hodgson in a trade-deadline swap with the Buffalo Sabres that has become the latest obsession with onlookers in this hockey-mad market. And because Kassian, 21, managed just three points in 17 games while Hodgson, 22, had but eight points in 20 games following the swap, the microscope is going to focus on the pair. Especially after Hodgson managed 16 goals and 33 points in 63 games before the trade. He’s already got game. Kassian is trying to find his.
“That stuff doesn’t bother me,” Kassian said of the comparison. “It comes with the game and if that bothers you, you’re not going to go too far. We’re different players and I wish him all the best. People are always going to criticize you whether you’re doing good or bad. You can’t really listen to what people are saying outside the rink. My goal is to make my teammates and my coaches happy. I’m prepared to do whatever it takes.”
The trouble with Kassian is that the 2009 first-round draft pick teases and then becomes tentative. In his first game with the Canucks, he played on the fourth line but took first and second-line shifts and finished with five hits in a dozen minutes. Two games later, Kassian was bumped from the fourth to the second line in the third period and responded with a goal and an assist and finished with seven hits against the Sabres. However, he also went pointless in four postseason games, saw his ice time shrink from six to less than four minutes and dished out just five hits in that shocking series loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
Through it all, management has maintained that Kassian is a work in progress. Far removed from 26 goals with the OHL Windsor Spitfires in 2010-11 and 15 goals with the AHL Rochester Americans last season, Kassian needs to make a statement to prove that he’s not just another fourth-line consideration like wingers Aaron Volpatti, Steve Pinizzotto, Guillaume Desbiens and Weise. Noticeably quicker and leaner at 217 pounds, the 6-foot-3 Windsor native is anxious to reward the faith and patience. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff often wondered why Kassian didn’t play tougher more often and wasn’t a stronger presence.
“It’s nice that he [Gillis] believes in you, but I have high expectations and I’m a competitive kid. I don’t want to let anybody down. It makes me very hungry to do that and exceed it. I know they signed a lot of guys, but I’m excited and I like good, healthy competition. I’m looking forward to earning my spot.”
If there’s an NHL lockout Sept. 15, being in the second year of a standard three year, two-way entry-level deal will allow Kassian to play for the AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves. That would present ample ice time and give the Canucks a read on whether an offseason regimen that focused on nutrition, speed and quickness will allow Kassian to take a significant step whether the NHL season starts on time or is curtailed.
“Everything had to get better for me to improve,” admitted Kassian. “Vancouver really helped me and I feel good. I think I can bring a physical and intimidating edge, but at the same time a scoring touch and make plays. Hopefully, I get the opportunity and run with it.”
Professional careers seldom travel a straight line and Kassian hit potholes even before graduating from junior. He was suspended three times in the OHL — including 20 games for a hit to the head in 2010-11 — and was charged with assault in a bar fight on May 30, 2010 in Windsor. The charge was dropped in exchange for community work but Kassian had to work to improve his image. And Vancouver was the perfect landing spot because of the level of accountability within the dressing room and a rampant fan following. In a city where everyone knows your name and your game, Kassian had no choice but to become an consummate pro on and off the ice.
“This is a great spot for me and it’s time for me to prove it,” said Kassian. “It’s an opportunity. Last year was my first pro season and there are a lot of ups and downs. It’s unbelievable here. Any time you play in a Canadian city — and especially Vancouver — it’s crazy. In Buffalo, there is good hockey and good fans but this is a whole different level. That’s fun to be around but you’ve got to do your job and do it every night or you’re going to get criticized.
“I’ve got to be consistent. That separates the good players from the average.”
Awesome article. I love this kid! He is one of my favourite prospects on the Canucks and I know that with his determination, he will prove to be the player he was projected to be.
Edited by StevenStamkos, 30 August 2012 - 08:24 PM.