Oh, where to begin with Zack Kassian? The hulking forward has been much maligned since being dealt to Vancouver from Buffalo in the now infamous Cody Hodgson trade, battling issues with discipline and consistency, as well as struggling to earn ice time under two consecutive Canucks head coaches. Still, despite his perceived on-ice struggles, Zack Kassian managed to solidify himself as a good NHL hockey player under John Tortorella.
Kassian was buried in the defensive zone, saw little in terms of powerplay time, and was saddled with Brad Richardson at even strength, but still managed to lead the Canucks in rate scoring and carry positive possession numbers. Will he continue his growth this year, and perhaps earn himself the trust of new head coach of Willie Desjardins?
Read past the jump for more.
All things considered, Zack Kassian really wasn’t bad last season. The big winger finished with 29 points, 28 of which came at 5-on-5. For a guy playing 3rd line minutes, this is actually a really, really good total. In fact, his ES points/60 of 1.91 was tied for 1st on Vancouver with the now departed Mike Santorelli, and good for 73rd in the entire NHL.
To put this into perspective, there are, by definition, 90 1st line forwards in the NHL at any one given time. Kassian’s scoring rate was consistent with that of a low-end 1st line winger, and was the same as Brandon Saad, David Perron, Reilly Smith, Ryan O’Reilly, and James van Reimsdyk – some pretty good company for a guy who’s “struggled” at times.
Moreover, Zack Kassian was a positive possession player while seeing just a 43.5% offensive zone start rate, which was among the lowest zone start rates among regular Canucks forwards. Playing with Brad Richardson also didn’t help Kassian’s possession game as evidenced by the WOWYs, but some of this may have been deployment or variance driven too.
What may hurt Zack Kassian this year is that he seemed to have some nice chemistry with David Booth, who’s now back on the IR in Toronto. The two combined to control nearly 54% of the shot attempts while they were together, and produced some nice offensive sequences near the end of 2013-14 as well. All in all, given the circumstances that surrounded him, Kassian had a very promising 2013-2014 and looks primed to assume a larger role.
A lot of Zack Kassian’s success this upcoming season will depend on how new head coach Willie Desjardins uses him. John Tortorella never really gave him a legitimate shot in the top-6, as evidenced by being stapled to Brad Richardson’s hip last year, and stylistically, Zack Kassian just looks more like a playmaker than a guy that’s gonna bull rush to the net and score 20 goals.
With Radim Vrbata, the secretly effective Jannik Hansen, and the newly acquired Linden Vey likely patrolling the right wing, along with Nicklas Jensen who’s had a promising preseason, competition for the spot that Kassian seems most suited to play is at an all-time high. Personally, I’d think that Kassian’s numbers indicate that he’s the most deserving of the #2 RW spot right now, but for whatever reason, coaches just seem to be far too focused on stuff Kassian doesn’t do to give him that type of responsibility.
Kassian could, in theory, be a good fit with an ultra-high volume shooter like Radim Vrbata if Vrbata moves to his off wing, but a play driver and defensive ace like Alex Burrows should be a nice compliment too. Once again though, the Canucks may find it difficult to find a centre to make use of Kassian’s talents. A guy with a nose for the net like Mathieu Perreault seemed like the ideal pivot for Kassian, but Perreault signed with Winnipeg in free agency, and neither Nick Bonino nor Linden Vey look to be that type of player. Maybe 21-year old Bo Horvat is that guy, but unfortunately Bo Horvat is just 19 this year, and probably not ready for full-time top-6 NHL duty.
What matters most though is that Zack Kassian has proven that he’s a good middle-6 winger, and capable of producing offense at even strength. He should be able to build on last season given a bigger role; it’s just a matter of whether or not he’ll be afforded that opportunity.