Why Zack Kassian is a Playmaker: Video Analysis

We have darkened many digital pixels at our small corner of the Smylosphere arguing over why young Zack Kassian is a valuable player and why he is more of a playmaker than the power forward that the Canucks seem to desperately want him to be.  We know that no matter how much research we do we know it won’t influence management, which is fine, that’s not the goal. We actually this for the love of getting yelled at by commenters. 

So today I decided to do something irrational, something crazy and unexpected.  I decided to revisit the “Zack Kassian isn’t a power forward” argument by watching game video.

Click past the jump to see why Zack Kassian is a playmaking forward.

A while back in a fan post over on Pension Plan Puppets, a writer decided that David Clarkson of the Toronto Maple Leafs is a Balrog (because he cannot pass!).  They looked at the handful of assists that Clarkson has earned in his Leafs career to determine that he simply cannot pass the puck.  They then took this data to run further analysis on Clarkson.

That post inspired this post.  I went over all the assists that Zack Kassian has scored this year up to January 30th and last year to see how he is involved in each of the goals he is credited for an assist on.

Types of Assists

I used similar classifications of assists as in the post at Pension Plan Puppets (which can be read here) with some tweaking.  The four classifications of assists are:

  1. Henrik” – These are your playmaker passes; usually direct passes that become goals.  Second assists can fall under here.  My definition leans more towards the type of player who does the majority of the work to set up the goal, but particularly nice 2nd assists are considered too.
  2. Of Corsi” – When another player shovels in a rebound or tips-in a shot or shot attempt you took.  You’re still doing the work to set up the goal, but it’s not as clear cut and usually the goal scorer is in the right place at the right time.
  3. Grinder” –  My definition is where a player gets the puck to the goal scorer but the scorer does all the work to be able to score.  E.g. scoring after a puck battle or puck clearance (off the boards).
  4. Act of God” – super lucky assist credits; basically you are left wondering how the player was credited with an assist.

Without further adieu let’s look at Kassian’s assists:

2014 Assists

  1. January 30th,
     Kassian brings the puck around the net
    from behind and tries to push the puck in. 
    Horvat is right there for the rebound and on the 2nd rebound, Horvat jams the puck in.  Of Corsi
  2. November 20th
    .  (Secondary) Carries the puck halfway
    down the ice to deep into the offensive zone quick pass to Dorsett, quick pass
    to Horvat for the goal.  Henrik
  3. November
    .  (Secondary) Horvat
    carries the puck into the zone, drops it back to Kassian.  Kassian from the blue line shoots wide,
    bounces off the boards, retrieved by Hamhuis who quickly slaps it and is tipped
    in by Horvat. … have to go with a Of Corsi
  4. October 28th.
    Matthias passes Kassian the puck who steps over the blue line into the o-zone,
    passes to Richardson who heads to the net and scores.  Henrik

2013 Assists

  1. November 10th,
    (Secondary) Kassian standing at centre ice passes receives a pass and quickly
    tips it deep into the offensive zone. 
    Richardson is the F1 who skates in, turns around, and passes the puck cross
    ice to Sestito who scores top shelf. 
    With Sestito getting the goal this could be an Act of
    … but going to lean towards a Grinder because of the perfect dead-puck dump.
  2. December 22nd,
    A weird set up.  Garrison is in the
    defensive zone waiting for the line change, he passes to Booth who crosses into
    the offensive zone and passes to Kassian. 
    Kassian has a shot attempt and misses, skates behind the net after the
    puck, sees Tanev open in the deep slot and passes to him for a one time
    goal.  Henrik
  3. January 7th,  (Secondary) I don’t even think Kassian should
    have earned an assist on this goal since he does little to set it up.  Kassian carries the puck into the offensive
    zone with Kesler.  He passes to Tanev who
    takes a shot.  The rebound bounces
    towards the boards, it’s picked up by Tanev, who passes back to Hamhuis, who
    then passes back to Tanev and takes a shot where it’s tipped in by a stick in
    the crowd, likely an opponent.  I’d call
    it an Act of God
  4. January 18th,
    Kassian receives the puck in the neutral zone, carries it into the offensive
    zone to the red line, passes to Kesler in front of the net who then scores.  Henrik
  5. January 26th,
    (Secondary) Kassian receives the puck, crosses the blue line and passes to the
    speeding Garrison.  Garrison moves deeper
    into the zone and passes to Dalpe who takes a shot and then scores on his own
    rebound.  Grinder.
  6. January 29th,
    (Secondary) Kassian retrieves the puck in the offensive zone, skates behind the
    net, back passes to Stanton who passes to Sestito and scores.  Henrik
  7. February 4th,
    Kassian passes cross ice to Diaz who takes a slapshot from the point and scores. Henrik 
  8. March 14th,
    Kassian fights for the puck along the boards, gets it free and he skates with it,
    passes to an open Schroeder in the crease who snaps the puck into the net.  Henrik
  9. March 26th,
    4 point night for Kassian:
    1. Kassian fights for the puck along the
      boards, passes to Richardson in front of the net who turns around and
      scores.  Henrik
    2. Similar set up.  Fights for the puck in the corner, skates
      along the wall, passes to Richardson in front of the net and scores.  Henrik
    3. This one is more difficult to classify.  The team is moving out of the defensive zone,
      Kassian passes the puck at the blue line to Yannick Weber who receives the puck
      at the red line.  He skates into the
      offensive zone and takes a shot and scores. 
      Could be a Henrik but more likely should be counted as a Grinder because Weber did most of the work.
    4. Kassian fights for the puck in the defensive
      zone, gets it free and skates with it into the offensive zone.  He passes to Booth who adjusts, shoots and
      scores.  Henrik
  10. March 29th,
    Kassian passes it to Stanton back at the blue line who takes a shot and it is
    tipped in.  Maybe a Henrik?
  11. April 5th,
    In front of the net passes to Richardson who shoots and scores.  Henrik
  12. April 12th,
    From the blue line passes to Matthias where it kind of slips past the
    goaltender through the 5 hole.  Henrik  


This study is not conclusive by any means, it is nothing more than a (hopefully) interesting summary of the work that Kassian has done over the last two years.  If we were to study this deeper we would need to be looking at how often Kassian is performing in a playmaking role relative to every other player in the league and we would need a larger sample size.  We’d also need to look at total pass attempts and compare these successful ones to the ones that were unsuccessful. 

Still, there’s a few things that stand out in this. Namely that the majority of the work that Kassian is doing to set up goals does involve actual playmaking, as he demonstrated once again last night with a two assist performance against the Boston Bruins.  It’s Kassian doing the work to get the puck to the right player at the right time. 

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  • Vanoxy

    Kassian is a skilled player with the puck on his stick. Where Kassian’s game begins to fall apart is when he doesn’t have the puck. In my own simple, self-invented terminology, Kassian is a chaser. Rather than anticipating the play, he chases the play. And to make matters worse, he doesn’t chase the play like a Hansen or a Dorsett (like a dog on a bone), but rather lackadaisically.

    He also loses far too many puck battles for a man his size and gets knocked off his feet a startling number of times for a man his size.

    I don’t know if any of these shortcomings are fixable. I think I could live with these shortcomings if Kassian finds magic with other players on a line who have these qualities. And with Matthias and Dorsett, perhaps he has.

  • Larionov18

    The January 26th second assist where he one touches it to Garrison who is about to cross the blueline is BEAUTIFUL. Definitely a Henrik…

    I remember last year one of you at CA was saying you may go through game film and piece together all the beautiful chances he set up that were coughed up by Richardson or whoever. I think that would be the truly telling piece. I know it’d be a ton of work and probably not worth it, but it’d be something to see.

    Between his personal sh% and his set-up ability, I think Kassian can be one of those guys who can drive a high on-ice sh%…. at least if he’s not playing with Richardson and Sestito.

    I think you put the wrong link for the March 14th goal btw (Diaz goal again).

  • Orpo

    Yes! this is very interesting work, a categorical breakdown of types of assists a player can get beyond the archaic 1st & 2nd assist.
    If you do this again can you summarize the totals at the end of the post?

  • Orpo

    I am not sure why you are trying to say he has to be a playmaker rather than a power forward, why can he not be both. He clearly relishes making good passes, but lately he seems to be realizing the value of hard checking and power moves, playing with Matthias helps. Next year I am hoping to see of line of Matthias with Kassian and Jensen, size, skill.