First Look: Zack Kassian Traded to Montreal for Brandon Prust

Well, we can’t say we didn’t see this coming. Kassian has been rumoured to be on the move since January (originally speculated to be involved in a swap for new Canuck Matt Bartkowski), and we were fairly certain that he was going to be dealt this offseason one way or another. Still, our expectation was that Vancouver would target another “defective” young player or draft pick and take the cap space freed up to spend on the free agent market.

What we didn’t expect is that Jim Benning would give up a 5th round draft pick in the deal to target a 31-year old pending unrestricted free agent who’s very much a 4th liner and making $2.5 million dollars next season. New Canucks winger Brandon Prust brings a consistent hard-nosed and competitive game, but are the Canucks better right now?

Let’s have a look.

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As with all deals, there’s a subtraction component and an addition component. Substituting Kassian for Brandon Prust hurts the Canucks in certain areas, but helps them in others, and allows them to pursue new looks with their roster. First off, let’s look at what Vancouver is sending away in Kassian.

Subtracting Zack Kassian

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Coming in to 2014-2015, we expected Kassian to build on his solid 2013-14 campaign and continue to develop into a credible middle-6 forward by rounding out his defensive game while still scoring like a top-line winger on a per minute basis. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite happen. Once again, Kassian struggled under his third head coach in Vancouver and quickly found himself in the doghouse due to some poor defensive play. Add in a nagging back injury, and it was a fairly disappointing year for the mercurial winger.

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Kassian was horrendous at preventing opposing scoring chances last season, and has been at the low-end of third liners in terms of preventing shot attempts over the past few seasons – pretty below average defensively. He doesn’t have any penalty kill upside, and has yet to get any serious looks on the powerplay. On the other hand, Kassian is a well above average rate scorer that has carried a fairly high personal shooting percentage in his NHL career. He doesn’t shoot the puck enough for us to know whether or not this is talent or variance driven (I’d lean variance driven, personally), but he’s been a very efficient goal scorer in his NHL career.

Kassian was also something of a surplus asset in Vancouver, patrolling the right wing. Alex Burrows and Radim Vrbata are more than likely going to occupy the two top-6 RW spots going forward, Jannik Hansen is a better two-way player and has had far more success with the Sedins, Derek Dorsett is a natural RW and locked in for the near-to-mid-term future, and Linden Vey, Alex Grenier (who still needs an RFA deal), and/or Jake Virtanen represent intriguing young options on the right side.

In all, as enticing a package as Kassian was, he was a definite surplus asset for the short-term focused Canucks and didn’t bring much more to the table than what they already had in the organization. He’s a loss that will hurt the team’s ability to score goals and generate offense, but he’s not a huge loss.

Adding Brandon Prust

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Prust is a legitimately useful defensive player, but he’s hovering around replacement level in terms of driving play. He can make some plays off the rush, bringing up his individual goal and assist totals, but he tends to drag down the offensive numbers of the players around him.

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Much of Prust’s impact on goals against and GoalsFor% is unfortunately driven by playing in front of Carey Price, but he’s been above NHL average at suppressing shots on net too. This talent carries over to the penalty kill, where Prust has been one of Montreal’s better penalty killing forwards since 2012 thanks to his speed, tenacity, and defensive acumen.

Prust will provide the Canucks with some depth at left wing though, helping insulate a pool of players that thins out rapidly after Chris Higgins with Shawn Matthias having left in free agency. Again, Sven Baertschi should make the NHL jump next season, but Vancouver’s best options after that would have been Hunter Shinkaruk (who needs an AHL season after he’s afforded a whole summer of not rehabilitating a catastrophic hip injury) and the relatively unproven Ronalds Kenins. The Canucks needed a left winger, and they got one in Prust.

Beyond that, Brandon Prust will bring a type of physical edge and consistent nastiness that Kassian struggled with that will surely endear himself to Canucks fans in the long run. Despite what some will tell you, Prust and the edge he brings doesn’t help you win hockey games unless he’s cheap and playing on the fourth line, but it may help Jim Benning sleep better at night, for what little that’s worth.

The Verdict

I don’t like trading an RFA-protected 24 year old who may be improving for a 31-year old battle-beaten 4th liner making more money and is a UFA at the end of the next season. To me, this seems like a “we gotta get rid of Kassian” trade more than anything, especially since Vancouver added in a 5th round pick in 2016.

I don’t think this is a good way to build for the future, and I think these types of moves are the ones that keep you in hockey purgatory. The Canucks gave away a lottery ticket in this deal, they got older, and hampered their ability to add more players – like, for example, a now much-needed depth centre – in free agency, especially since Baertschi, Grenier, Clendening, and Corrado are all still in need of contracts.

The Canucks fourth line might be better now than it was this morning, but it’s a pretty marginal improvement. That being said, Kassian’s back injury adds another variable in this deal, and could prove a decisive factor in who wins going forward. The Canucks got meaner and more intense, but did they get better? I doubt it.

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  • peterl

    This speaks to the market for Kassian. It doesn’t look like the other NHL teams would give up any value (e.g. 2nd or 3rd round pick) for him. It does make sense then to hang onto Kassian for another year and see if he turns anything around, but management obviously thought otherwise.

    In the meantime, Prust could be moved at the deadline for a draft pick, hence why the Canucks had to include their draft pick. I don’t expect this though. JB clearly likes a Prust-type player and I think Prust will be offered an extension (an ill-advised Dorsett-like extension though).

    At the very least, the Canucks will definitely be “tougher” without employing a pure puncher like Tom Sestito.

  • peterl

    Another terrible trade by a dumb GM.

    I seriously want someone to give him an IQ test. Who makes this trade? Nobody except the 1 dumb idiot we get stuck with as out GM.

    Think about all his trades he’s made this far. They’ve all been busts. He’s got little to NO value in all his trades. And then promptly starts a smear campaign in the media against all those players he trades. He hands out contracts to Sbisa, Dorsett and Miller. He trades 2nd round picks for career AHLers (Vey, Baertshi). His drafting has been terrible. He’s traded more picks in 6 months as a GM than Gillis did in his prior 5 years as a GM.

    How is he a GM? How did he get hit job. And after another joke of a summer by him – how does he keep his job?

  • If you read between the lines of what Benning is saying on Kassian, there has to be more to the story.

    Is it possible Benning is really stupid and makes arbitrary trades to the detriment of the team? Sure.

    More likely though there were neon signs telling Canucks brass to get Kassian out of town.

    And the return? Surprised more fans aren’t excited about Prust.

    I don’t have analytics to quantify his value.

    But if I am a 19-year-old kid and Lucic skates up to me and whispers, “I am going to bust your head open after the puck drops”, I’m pretty glad to see Prust coming over the boards.

    He’s a veteran who plays hard, and he’s going to be a good leader on a team that has a reputation of playing soft hockey.

  • Not Dressed For Tonight's Game

    Thomas Drance has a great article today on Sportsnet on this slow messy rebuild that the Canucks are doing. It has to be this way because of the fans.

    It was so embarrassing yesterday during free agent frenzy and TSN cuts over to TSN 1040 radio to hear our fans in absolute hysterics. We basically traded a person who was either healthy scratch or injured most of last year for a fourth liner and the vitriol and whining about this trade and Benning was downright embarrassing.

    I remember going to a pre-season game last year and had to endure two straight hours of trash talking of Edler during the game by a so-called fan. Of course, he had a bounce back season. This year everyone has made an agreement that we are all going to hate Sbisa and Miller.

    Sometimes, it is really hard being a Canucks fan. Forget Benning, it’s these kind of fans who make us look like a joke to everyone else.

  • Spiel

    Kassian was a huge disappointment in Vancouver. He was touted as a Lucic type power forward and never delivered.

    I’ll probably enjoy watching Prust make some hits and defend his teammates, but is that worth $2.5M? Hopefully Benning is able to get more than a 5th rounder back for him at the trade deadline.

  • andyg

    I’d love and back a youth movement.
    Problem is they called for one last season too and besides Vey they made little room for any of our young players. Horvat made them change their minds but others weren’t given the opportunity and patience that young players need.
    We should have seen Jensen for a few games and see how he plays with the big boys.
    Corrado should have been given more of a look but at least Clandening gained some experience.
    We need to part ways with Higgens, Hansen, Burrows, and let our young guys grow together.
    I would much much rather watch and support a good hard working young team that piles up the loses then almost/just make the play-offs. Much rather have the experience gained and better drafting position. Can you imagine who we could have got in the draft if we started our rebuild last year and picked in the 3-10 range.
    I would support a full rebuild as most of my hockey friends also.

    • argoleas

      Corrado played 10 games in Van, and was unfortunately injured when most of the roster was down. He will be playing with the team this year.

      Why would we get rid of Hansen? Great wheels, and nothing has degraded.

      Jensen did not have a good year in Utica, so why try him here? He had a good end in the Calder Cup, so he may compete for a spot this year.

      What is instructive about Horvat is that he showed he could compete, so a spot was made for him. We can argue that no one else was ready.

      They trade Bieksa to make room for Corrado and Clendening, who are deemed ready. If Jensen, Gaunce, Virtanen or Grenier impress, spots will be made for them.

      I’m for youth as anyone else here, but I still dont see what people are thinking when they call for a “full” rebuild. With that? How? Tell me who replaces any given veteran, and show me that this prospect is ready. Otherwise, its magic Oiler thinking.

      • pheenster

        I forgot Corrado was injured but it take take a significant number of injuries before he was brought up. All the guy has done over the last four years is impress his coaches at every level.

        Hansen can get us something now, why wait until he is downwards trending. Plus we have a bunch of young guys ready for that 3 line position.

        Jensen might just be one of those players that needs a break and a confidence boost. He has the size but just needs that little something extra, lets get him up here and figure out what it is.

        Horvat is awesome and hopefully his peers have taken notice, how many rookies add muscle mass over their first full season?

        How does trading Bieksa make room for two players, especially when the Canucks dip into the UFA market and get a couple more defensemen. I understand one is bound for Utica but the math still doesn’t work.

        People are also now saying trading Kassian for Prust is so we can make room for Jake. Again that math doesn’t work.

        I would never use the Oilers player development as a template but the Oil did prove that sucking works in the end.

        • argoleas

          Looking at the right side, we have Tanev, Weber, Corrado, and Clendening. With the inevitable injuries, everyone will get their share of playing time. If both Corrado and Clendening excel, Weber will be traded, or not resigned.

          I think that overall, the spots are there. Just have to be better than the veteran you want to replace. Seems to have been the approach in Utica as well. So if someone is able to bump Hansen, go for it. But no need for a fire sale on the guy.

          With Jensen, seems some things started to work out at the end there, so that may be the way to go – seized the chance. It would certainly be a dream for him to take Vrbata’s spot. But more realistically, I see Jensen having a good season on the top six in Utica, then moving up in 2016-2017 to the main club, or sooner if Vrbata is moved at the trading deadline. The talent and speed is there.

          Horvat’s progress was indeed a revelation, which makes me really wonder if Virtanen will be able to make that jump.

          Sure, getting very lucky in the lottery to pick up McJesus seems like sucking works, although I would suggest that their front office being completely blown up is also a good thing. But that’s like saying that WW2 was good for the subsequent real estate market. I still wonder how that existing core will fare with the new changes. Big if….

    • andyg

      Onside with the youth movement too until I evaluate our youth versus other teams’ pipelines.

      Who has a better pipeline than the Canucks? I would put Florida, Sabres, Oilers, Jets definitely in that bucket.

      Toronto (gag) is starting to come around, Isles look good.

      The problem is in three/four years, we are running headlong into the Jets and Oilers.

      Big problem.

      Why be halfway pregnant Canucks’ management?

      • pheenster

        I understand that we don’t have the talent pipeline as those teams but you have to start to accumulate talent for a few years before it starts to pay off and have a pipeline that still maturing prospects. But drafting is just part of the puzzle, smart trades & UFA’s to bolster a line up are needed as well.

        I wish we started a rebuild with Gillis and Torts and at least had a shot at some outstanding talent that was available last Friday. The Jets and their great drafting and the Oilers with all their top picks are going to be hard to beat but whatever team we have, that will be the case and at least I’d like a decent shot at beating them.

        Go Future Canucks Go