Canucks Army Player Previews: Zack Kassian

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.

2013-2014 Performance

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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.

2014-2015 Outlook

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.

  • I hope Kassian ends up with Burrows on the other wing. (Or possibly Vrbata or Higgins depending on line combos)

    How many times did we see him bust into the zone along the wall, and flip a perfect backhand right onto the tape for David Booth, only to see Booth waste it right at the goalie’s logo. (Or alternatively into the netting)

    And we won’t talk about the passes to Richardson, lol

    Even if it is still third line minutes, having someone who can shoot at an NHL level to receive those passes should make a world of difference.

  • ikillchicken

    There is not one player on the Canucks team I feel is even worth hyping or previewing. No superstar, no new young rising talent, no secret weapon, no zippidooda. It’s just more of the same of stale pizza minus a few topping and a whole load of new uninspiring toppings.

    I’s like to get excited about the next season but there’s less buzz about this years team than a sale at a lululemon boutique.

    On a good note the scalpers will lose money. What a country, we legalize pirates who buy up tickets at retail and gouge others with high prices. I hear you have to even get a license to scalp. Go figure, licenses pirates. Welcome to BC folks, where the government does nothing but tax people to death, run money pits like Skytrain and ICBC and legalize pirating. With friends like that in office, you don’t need enemies.

    • ikillchicken

      Your trash talk still seems to be in pre-pre-season form. You’re going to need to step it up if you want to really compete.

      I don’t see Kassian with the Twins — two puck distributors and one shooter. I like that third line option with Vey and Jensen much better, with the idea that Jensen would be the shooter.

  • ikillchicken

    REALLY want to see this kid get top-6 minutes. He created offense last year with black holes as line mates, give him a season with some offensive players.

    I have been beating the Kassian with the twins drum for the longest time, I feel that he will allow them that little bit extra time needed to perform their magic. If a meathead tries to pull some post-curricular stuff, that is when Big Zack seems to thrive.

    Still trying to reconcile why the fickle Vancouver market is so hung up on his occasional defensive lapses, that will happen when you have the puck on your stick. We should be focusing on what the kid can do instead: drive play, play big, put puck in net. He’s never going to be a Kesler/Bergeron/Toews/Kopitar defensive stalwart, stop harping on the kid because he isn’t.

  • ikillchicken

    I really want to see Jensen with Kassian. Jensen actually shoots left and plays both wings as I understand it. He’d be the perfect compliment to a guy like Kassian. They’re both big, fast, dynamic players and Jensen has a heck of a shot to go with Kassian’s play-making ability. Even better if you put them both with Vey and use them as an offensively deployed scoring 3rd line.

    • ikillchicken

      That would be my vote for opening night.*

      Sedins and Vrbata take the lion’s share of the offensive zone starts and PP time, but stack Burrows/Bonino/Higgins on a second line that can be a two way threat, while Kassian/Vey/Jensen can be a sheltered third line that can rack up some points.

      Kinda like how the twins were sheltered by the WCE, or the Morrison/Schaeffer/Cooke line before them. Put some young players (roughly the same age) together and put them in a position to succeed offensively without having to be defensive stalwarts. Confidence is everything, and now we have a coach that won’t bench them for half a season due to a couple of bad shifts.

  • ikillchicken

    Excellent article. Gonna post this for people who complain about Kassian.

    He really is somewhat of an enigma to me. Mainly cause I don’t think coaches understand him, and know how to use him properly. I’m curious if there were some off ice issues that led to him being thrown down the depth chart, cause the #’s say he should be in the top6. And they’ve said it for a while now. It leads me to believe something else might be going on?

    I hope he has a great year and actually gets a shot under the new coach.

  • ikillchicken

    Kassian came to the Canucks with too much on his shoulders. He was supposed to be the next Bertuzzi and we all wanted him to show up now!

    Fact is he is only a couple of years older than Shinkaruk and Jensen who haven only played a couple of games combined in the league. What impresses the most is his playmaking ability which could be off the charts.

    I like the pairing with Burrows because Burr is defensively solid and goes hard to the net. With Burrows as their winger, the Twins had to skate faster. Hopefully playing with Burrows will give Kass an edge when going to the net. Also with Bonino centering the two, you have two slick passers and solid two way players. I Like the Bonino/Burr/Kass line. Should be solid defensively and tough to play against.

  • ikillchicken

    I like Kassian, and I generally think this is a good article. I too think he’s a middle-6 forward.

    I expected at least a minor touch on his inflated ES SH%, but that might be a little nit-picky. Still, I feel like it’s reasonable to expect he won’t be shooting near 15% next season.

    I’m willing to bet that some people are going to be disappointed with his play as it regresses.