Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports
Zack Kassian is at his best when he’s creating havoc at the net front, challenging goaltenders with his sneaky-good wrist shot, and sticking pucks into the net from the slot.
In the past we’ve argued at length in this space that Zack Kassian is a playmaker. It’s time for us to reconsider that position in my view. Kassian is best suited to being a more traditional power forward, and his value to the Canucks – should they opt to keep him past this summer – will be heightened if he plays a simpler north-south game and generates more shots on goal.
Tackling the subject of Kassian as a playmaker, Josh Weissbock wrote this last season:
There’s no clear distinction between his raw goal scoring statistics and his playmaking statistics, although Kassian has generally ranked higher in terms of goals than he has in assists. What’s been important to note though is that while his on-ice CorsiFor/60 has steadily been increasing, Kassian’s individual shot attempt numbers have remained relatively low.
This indicates that even though he hasn’t been producing assists, his linemates are the ones shooting the puck more frequently than he is. In other words, his preference from passing hasn’t yet manifested itself in tangible output. His goal scoring has been driven largely by a high personal shooting percentage, meaning he’s either very lucky, very opportunistic, or a bit of both.
Josh further supported his argument with some compelling video analysis.
We’ve all seen what Kassian can do protecting the puck down low, and he definitely has deceptively soft hands for a big man. It’s not necessarily that Kassian’s vision is sub-average or an issue or anything, but at this point, he has a large enough sample of performance for us to evaluate what he’s legitimately good at.
What Kassian is really good at is converting on a high percentage of his shots, not setting up goals for other players.
Since the 2012 NHL lockout Kassian has produced 5-on-5 offense at a second-line rate. His points per 60 minutes rate is similar to what players like Mason Raymond, Alex Killorn, Chris Higgins and Chris Stewart have managed over a similar time frame.
It’s not his passing ability that’s driving that point production though. Among the 303 NHL players who have logged at least 1500 5-on-5 minutes since the 2012 lockout, Kassian ranks 210th in assist rate (comparable to the likes of Riley Nash, Brenden Morrow and Ryan Kesler – not exactly deft playmakers) and 180th in primary assist rate.
Where Kassian fares much better is in his goal scoring rate. The physical 24-year-old forward scores goals at a first-line rate at 5-on-5. Since the lockout, in fact, he’s scored goals at a rate comparable to the likes of Blake Wheeler, Jordan Eberle and Evander Kane.
What’s curious is that Kassian is scoring goals at a high rate despite carrying a persistently anemic personal shot rate. He’s generating 5-on-5 shots on goal at about half the rate that Kane does, for example, he’s just converting on a way higher percentage of his shots.
It’s not uncommon for big, skilled forwards – from Nathan Horton to Scott Hartnell – to shoot a higher than average percentage. If you’re tough to move out of the slot, it can be a bit easier to pick up the garbage.
In almost 200 career NHL games, Kassian is carrying a personal shooting percentage above 14 percent. He’s been massively efficient.
Since the lockout Kassian’s personal shooting percentage at even strength ranks sixth among the 303 NHL forwards who’ve logged at least 1500 minutes (on par with Steven Stamkos, and ahead of Corey Perry and Jonathan Toews). His on-ice shooting percentage hovers around 8.75 which is similarly elevated. 1500 minutes and 200 games isn’t a gigantic sample or anything so he could just be on a run of insane finishing luck, but there’s perhaps some suggestive evidence that Kassian has the skill set required to drive percentages somewhat.
Admittedly some of this data may be slanted by the fact that Kassian has spent 300 minutes or so riding shotgun with the Sedin twins – two of the best playmakers of their generation. The twins don’t really drive percentages anymore though, and haven’t really since the Keith hit…
When I look at Kassian’s rather rare underlying statistical profile, I’m left to wonder what he might be capable of if he could boost his shots on goal rate. Shooting at a higher volume would likely drop his efficiency somewhat, but he certainly seems to be most dangerous banging puck past goaltenders from the slot than he is making plays and protecting the puck on the periphery. Perhaps a simpler game, and more ice time with the Sedin twins, could benefit him enormously (and by extension, the club as a whole).
Though Kassian still has promise and value, he was rumoured to be on the trade block and could conceivably still be moved at the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
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