CA Prospect Profiles: #1 Zack Kassian

Jeff Angus
August 31 2012 09:05AM

Although Zack Kassian has appeared in only 21 games as a Canuck, he is one of the most important players on the roster as we look to the future. He is the top prospect on the club (according to the Canucks Army writers). He is one of the best prospects in hockey according to a number of scouts, and he brings many attributes to the ice that the Canucks have lacked in recent years - physicality, size, and intimidation.

Kassian has put in serious work this summer to get in terrific shape. He put in work with top trainers at the Nike Headquarters in Oregon back in July along with a few other prospects, including Kevin Connauton and Jordan Schroeder. Kassian trained and spent some time with the Sedin twins and Manny Malhotra in April and May of 2012, as well. 

Kassian has trimmed about 15 pounds off of his frame this summer. Fear not, though, as he still tips the scales at close to 215 pounds (regardless of what he is listed at on various sites, Kassian played at  close to 230 pounds last year).

He started off great with the Canucks after the trade from Buffalo, but his level of play faded down the stretch, as he struggled to keep up with the pace that the team operates at.

Kassian training at the Nike Headquarters:

I worked on an extensive profile of Kassian earlier this summer, analyzing his career through junior hockey and the Buffalo organization before coming over to Vancouver. His story is quite an interesting one, and I'd recommend reading the piece (shameless plug). Even at a young age he was preparing for the NHL, something his mother recognized.

Kassian has had the mindset of a pro from day one. “[Zack] told me he was going to be at the [NHL] draft, and he was going to put on his jersey, and he was going to stand there and thank all of his coaches. He was driven by the love of the game. You even saw it in how he ate. How many 12-year-olds would look at you when you give them something and say, ‘I can’t eat, that mom. I have to eat healthy.’”

He spent the first few years of his OHL career in Peterborough, and the Petes assistant GM got to see a lot of him during that time.

“I got to see Lucic play as a junior. Zack may have been more powerful physically. I think it’s a pretty fair comparison. There both big, there both physical. They also have offensive tools.”

I won’t repost my entire column, but the point of it was this – Kassian has overcome a lot of adversity in his life, and because of that he is prepared to face the ups and downs of being the top prospect in a hockey-crazed market like Vancouver.

Back in 2009 leading up to his draft selection, Kassian offered these thoughts to the media:

“I think some guys get mad because they’re not playing here, they’re not playing there, and they want to get traded. I don’t think they realize that’s really nothing. Your family is what’s important. When something like [the death of a father] happens it’s always a tragedy. But I think it made me stronger to make it to the NHL and make them proud.” 

Kassian’s comments are interesting to look back on, as they touch on issues the Canucks faced with Cody Hodgson (demands of more ice time, and eventually a trade out of Vancouver). The two will forever be linked, and it will be interesting to see how their careers go from here. Hodgson, right now, is penciled in as Buffalo’s second line center, a role he may not be ready for. Kassian could play anywhere from line two with Booth and Kesler, to line four with Malhotra and Weise (or another depth forward).

The Canucks are in a position where they don’t need to rush him, so don’t expect him to be playing significant minutes unless he proves he is ready for it.

In researching the Kassian piece, I spoke with a lot of people who have followed his career through Windsor, Buffalo, and Rochester. The range of opinions was wide (to say the least), but there was common thought throughout each conversation – if Kassian can be brought up with strong leaders around him, the sky is the limit. And that should be really exciting news, as you aren’t going to find better leaders – on or off of the ice – than the Sedin twins or Malhotra.

Kassian may not be the next Todd Bertuzzi, and he may not be the next Milan Lucic, either. But his rookie statistics, extrapolated over a full 82-game season, compare pretty favorably to Lucic’s rookie numbers.

SEASON

TEAM

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

SOG

TOI/G

11-’12

VAN/BUF

44

4

6

10

-2

51

54

10:52

11-’12

Projected

82

7

11

18

-2

94

100

10:52

 

SEASON

TEAM

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

SOG

TOI/G

07-’08

BOS

77

8

19

27

-2

89

88

12:09

07-’08

Projected

82

9

20

29

-2

94

94

12:09

In terms of finding an exact player comparison, Kassian is more of a Blake Wheeler than a Lucic. He doesn’t have all of Wheeler’s offensive abilities, but he is tougher and more physical. Why I like the Wheeler comparison – both players are dominant along the boards and behind the net, and both have great hands and terrific vision for big wingers. It took Wheeler a long time to find his place in the league (which he has now done as arguably Winnipeg’s best offensive forward), and Kassian won’t be a 20-to-30 goal scorer right away, either. It is going to take some time.

His hands and offensive ability on display:

Although Vancouver didn’t draft Kassian (they scouted him heavily back in 2009, however), no player better exemplifies the recent focus that the club has placed on on size and strength with drafting and player development . Kassian was one of a handful of young players around the league they targeted when shopping Hodgson. He may not be as productive offensively as Hodgson for a few seasons. And he may not be as physically intimidating as Lucic was as a second year NHLer. However, Kassian is on the right track and the Canucks are making sure he stays there.

 

OTHER PROSPECT PROFILES IN THIS SERIES: 

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Jeff shares his Canuck-related thoughts with the Army a few times per week. His work can also be found over at DobberHockey.com, as well as his personal blog, AngusCertified.com. Give him a follow on Twitter @anguscertified.
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#1 Wicked
August 31 2012, 08:02PM
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Wicked awesome series boyz! Really enjoyed it.

I have a soft spot for Kassian. Listening to his story, how he lost his dad,and how he was trade in the middle of his 1st yr pro. That's not an easy path. It's certainly not easy coming to a team with high expectations in a CDN market. It's much harder to make that transition with you're young and inexperienced.

Brings me to my point, I hope the Canucks protect this kid. Protect him from the passionate fanbase and media. I'm not sure how they do this, but they have a PR staff and organizational strategies that can do this. He needs time to grow and learn, and it's hard to accomplish that under a microscope of pressure at a young age. It's their job to mitigate that risk.

He's not Lucic, he's not Wheeler, he's Kassian - fans need to realize this and let him be his own player. He won't do it this coming season, it will take time. Let's get behind this kid and support him.

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#2 antro
August 31 2012, 10:51AM
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Great read. But reading this, I'm not sure why the Canucks Army folks rate Kassian ahead of Jensen. More physical? Maybe it's the lack of highlight packages, but it sounds as if Jensen has better wheels, and probably better hands, as well as being on the way to improving his two-way game. Is Kassian just a year further along?

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#3 bergberg
August 31 2012, 11:02AM
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I like the pick of Kassian as number 1, and can't wait to see what he brings next season. But I have to agree with the other poster. Didn't really get much out of this post about Kassian's skill set and why he deserves to be ranked number 1. A bit anti-climactic. But overall, really enjoyed the series.

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#4 NuckfiSh
August 31 2012, 11:45AM
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Really enjoyed the series, thanks guys!

I think you got it right with Kassian at #1. The kids a beast. He'll be well established by the time most guys on the list get their cup of coffee.

It seems Vancouver is a very balanced team at the prospect level too. They have different guys projecting real well for different roles, and you can really see the emphasis put on size & strength. It's evident in Kassian Jensen & Gaunce (amongst others) that the 'soft' reputation won't apply to the future Canucks.

I am a little surprised how low McNally ranked tho. Especially after some of the rave reviews i've read on this site. Maybe it's because he's still another year or two away, but i've had an eye on him since Drance first profiled him a while back.

Good series, i look forward to more.

Believe.

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#5 Patrick Johnston
August 31 2012, 01:16PM
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antro wrote:

Great read. But reading this, I'm not sure why the Canucks Army folks rate Kassian ahead of Jensen. More physical? Maybe it's the lack of highlight packages, but it sounds as if Jensen has better wheels, and probably better hands, as well as being on the way to improving his two-way game. Is Kassian just a year further along?

Hey Antro

First of all, thanks for sticking with the whole series. I know I can safely say we all enjoyed putting it together; for me, I've always enjoyed the challenge of hunting down the story, be it here at Canucks Army, for a freelance story or a research paper in university.

As for how *I* did my rankings, my process was simple. I looked at the 30 or so prospects the Canucks having under contract or otherwise and started with the top 10 (I did the bottom 10 second, it was the middle that was somewhat tricky). The fact that Kassian has already spent time in the NHL was his biggest selling point. He's an NHLer, none of his competitors at the top have played a minute in the NHL. He's made it ,and we know that he can stick around. Second I considered his raw physical tools. The comparison Jeff makes to Bertuzzi is apt: when Bert arrived in Vancouver in 1998, he was a player who was still figuring out how put it all together. A big man with exceptional skills, who needed some direction and encouragement in his game. Who knew that Mike Keenan was that guy?!

I also go back to the After Hours interview Kassian did shortly after he arrived in Vancouver. The intensity of his gaze as he answered Oake and Weekes' questions really caught my attention, he has what I call 'Bo Jackson eyes'; go look at any photo of Jackson (playing football especially) and he has a sublime focus. Kassian does the same thing.

Once I learned more about his path, about some of the poorer decisions he's made I thought it important to look at what he's done next. He seems to be a guy who can learn lessons - that's a massively important thing for a player, it speaks of someone who is capable of self-reflection and also willing to take on the advice of others. It's what we call 'coachability.'

Put it all together and he's got huge potential. A guy like Jensen, who might be his closer competitor as a forward prospect doesn't quite bring the same physical element as Kassian. Jensen is big, but not as big as Kassian. That's the other thing I've come to understand (mostly from my experiences as a coach) - size really does matter. It can make up for a lot of things.

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