It’s not too often that TSN’s Bob McKenzie, who is pretty much the godfather of reliable professional hockey reporting, pens a full post focussed on the Canucks. But on Monday night he covered some of the team’s "big questions" headed into training camp, and dropped a handful of curious nuggets that I simply haven’t seen suggested previously by Vancouver sports media.
One of the most fascinating bits of info? A suggestion that second-line power-forward Zack Kassian could get a look on the first line, moonlighting as the trigger-man for the Sedin twins.
Read past the jump.
Let’s just quickly break down some of McKenzie’s take and pull out what’s "new" (to us at least) from his column.
Who’ll play on the right side with Daniel and Henrik Sedin? Alex Burrows is never a bad answer but Zack Kassian may get a chance there.
Wow. What an opportunity that would be.
Over the course of their illustrious careers the Sedin twins have made pumping up the counting stats of otherwise average or slightly above players who are lucky enough to share the ice with them something of a habit. The Sedins style of play – their calling-card no-look backhand passes and uncanny ability to feather the puck through traffic – has generally resulted in a lot of gimme tap-ins for their line-mates. Vancouver’s first-line is also deployed with an extreme offensive orientation that is basically unparalleled anywhere else in the National Hockey League, the point being that filling in as the first-line with the Sedin twins is great work if you can get it.
In my minds-eye, I can see why Kassian could work well with the twins. He’s an under-rated playmaker, he’s strong along the boards and in the slot, and he’s very good at controlling the puck down low in the offensive zone. Also after years of seeing opposing team’s take runs at the twins, I have to admit that my reptile brain is fond of the idea of having the Sedins play with a relatively skilled "bodyguard" like Kassian. So Kassian has a few things working in his favour on this front; namely that he’s got a whole host of compatible skills, and he’ll be in mid-season form this month while his veteran competitors are just warming up. I’d imagine that if Zack Kassian can actually win that spot out of training camp and keep it through 48 games, he could pot 15 goals or so in a shortened season. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure everything I just wrote was once said about Steve Bernier.
Realistically, the notion of Zack Kassian contributing as a first-line fixture consistently next season me as a reach. I was expecting to see him slot into a role more similar to Raffi Torres’ old one on the third-line this upcoming season. But I suppose the opportunity could be there for Kassian to play big minutes with the twins, at least to start the season, especially if McKenzie is right when he suggests later on in the training camp preview that Alex Burrows could get a look out of position as the team’s second line centre.
Actually, when I was thinking about the team’s roster last night, I’d thought that maybe Kassian’s best opportunity might not be at even-strength this season, but could come on the power-play. Depending on who you ask, Ryan Kesler’s recovery could be drawn out this season, and in his absence there are going to some quality power-play minutes on that first unit up for grabs in Vancouver. I’d have to think that Burrows, Booth, Kassian, Higgins and Hansen could all get a look in that spot.
Let’s finish off with a couple of amusing notes. In his take, Bob McKenzie also touched on the Canucks’ defensive depth. He said that behind the obvious top-7, the team "will likely try to add a veteran presence to make it a solid eight though Kevin Connauton and Derek Joslin might do." Thirty minutes after the story was filed at TSN.ca, we heard from Dan Murphy that the Canucks may invite defenseman Cam Barker to training camp. Based on the way blue-line injuries sink the Canucks year, after year; I really hope Barker isn’t the "veteran presence" McKenzie was talking about…
Finally, McKenzie ends his take on all the uncertainty the Canucks face heading into training camp, with an odd choice to words that I can’t help but point out.
That seems an awful lot of questions for what’s supposed to be Canada’s best hope for a Cup contender, but the Canucks know their time is now, that their biological clock is ticking and while their window to win isn’t necessarily closing after this season, it’s not opening any wider either.
You’ve really got to give it to Bob McKenzie. In the past, when other analysts have more intentionally feminized the Canucks <cough> Mike Milbury <cough> (excuse me) it wasn’t nearly so funny.
Go read Bob McKenzie’s take in full here.