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Kassian better than ever; Torts looking forward to him


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The wide-eyed, fun-loving free spirit known as Zack Kassian showed a more serious side Wednesday. His timing couldn’t be better.

Kassian believes he has improved the critical components of being leaner, meaner and smarter to fast-forward his deportment on and off the ice. And knowing consistency must improve under John Tortorella — the new Vancouver Canucks coach will give the burly winger a top-line training camp audition and some degree of patience before tugging on the motivational rope — it could be the perfect storm for the 22-year-old Kassian to turn a performance corner.

Tortorella is operating from a clean slate because, quite frankly, the sample size on Kassian is so small that the bench boss is leaning on word of mouth.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people about him,” Tortorella said as main camp opened at Rogers Arena with physicals and testing.

“I want to give him every opportunity to be a huge part of this team. I’ve told him that. Of what people have told me about him, it’s something the team needs. As far as his willingness and playing into a bigger role, I’d like to see it happen. But he’s going to sink or swim himself."

“That’s why I contacted Zack. It’s a big year for him and we want him to step out of himself and be a big part of this club. He’s a young kid, and part of the process is patience and we want him to feel good about himself and earn everything he gets.”

Factor in right winger David Booth — who’s yet to be medically cleared after fracturing his left ankle March 16 — the need for Kassian to play meaningful top-line minutes could be magnified. Booth has been skating for only a month and has leaned out from nearly 240 pounds with considerable upper-body muscle to his playing weight of 205. He’s listed as day-to-day for precautionary reasons.

“David suffered a very serious injury and he’s an important part of this team and we have to protect him,” said Canucks general manager Mike Gillis. “It’s training camp. A player of his stature, you don’t need to push him and risk something else. It’s regular maintenance and you’ll see him soon.”

With Nicklas Jensen perhaps stepping into a second-line interim role after a strong showing at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, the chance to be a first-line fixture should be more than welcomed by Kassian,

“With open arms,” he said. “We had a short conversation of what he expected from me out of camp and it’s in my hands now. It’s time for me to show the work I’ve done and do the work. I’ll play wherever the coach thinks I can help the team.”

Kassian had five goals in his first seven games last season on the first line and wound up with just seven goals in 39 games. Blessed with size, good speed and great passing ability, the often wayward winger has all the tools. But does he have the tool box?

If aligned with the Sedins again when this season commences, it would provide second-line flexibility with Kesler centring Alex Burrows and Booth. As his best last season, Kassian played on instinct. But when he struggled and kept dropping down the lines under former coach Alain Vigneault, he looked tentative as if he was afraid to make a mistake. If that isn’t enough, there are always those Cody Hodgson trade comparisons.

“It’s always tough when you’re bouncing around on lines, but I don’t like using excuses,” stressed the 6-foot-3, 214 pound Kassian.

“I need to get more consistent and I’ve grown the mental side of my game. I’ve come in more mature and stronger and in better shape. I’ve worked on everything — all aspects of my game — like my speed and quickness. That’s all you can expect. I’m going in with open eyes.”

Kassian’s eyes were opened last season when he learned first-hand that in this town everybody knows your name and your game. You’re always been watched and one seemingly innocent smartphone camera click away in a social situation from being Twitter fodder.

“I’m very lucky to have an older core group of guys who handle themselves like pros every day on and off the ice,” said Kassian. “I’ve been learning a lot and I haven’t learned everything. It’s a growing process and day by day becoming a bigger pro.”

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I want to see Kassian with Hank all year.

Sedin Sedin Kassian

Burrows Kesler Jensen (Booth)

Higgins Horvat Hansen

Weiss Richardson Booth (Sestito/Jensen)

Once Booth works his way back into the lineup

he can switch with Jensen.

I also like the option of splitting up the Sedins.

I know the hockey pundits consider this sacrilegious.

Burrows H. Sedin Kassian

D.Sedin Kesler Jensen (Booth)

Higgins Horvat Hansen

Weiss Richardson Booth (Sestito/Jensen)

If Horvat doesn't work out after 9 games, see what Santorelli can do.

There is also 2.5 million left under the cap to sign another guy.

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I think part of the perceived "problem" with Torts is that he says stuff like the "sink or swim" comment which he means but makes way more sense if we understood more context. Torts seems like a coach who reaches out to players to begin with and takes the initiative to encourage and (maybe more often) challenge them. It's just that when he speaks to the media his comments don't come with knowledge about everything that happens behind closed doors. I think it's very hard to say that he does not care about his players.

As for Kassian, if he is really given a chance to stick with the Sedins all season, I don't see how his stat line can't improve. If he can learn from his mistakes (mostly his play without the puck) and find ways to contribute, I see him having a good year (might not be a "breakout" year but still a good year).

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Lets hope Torts can turn this kid around. I want him to play on the second line tho, or with someone who he can develop chemistry with. Playing with Sedins is great, but really all he is doing is playing a supportive role. It's not going to develop him into a player of his own

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