Zack Kassian is undoubtedly a polarizing figure for Canucks Nation. From day one in Vancouver, he has showed potential, however his inconsistent play and hockey sense has completely overshadowed his skillset. Now the question remains: with just 5 days remaining before the NHL trade deadline, do the Canucks keep pushing Kassian’s development, or flip him while he’s hot?
There are valid arguments and points for both cutting Kassian loose, and for keeping him to push his development so that he can find his stride. First, let’s take a look at the case for trading Kassian.
Trade Kassian NOW. #sellhigh
— Juha Hiitelä (@jhiitela) February 14, 2015
Coming into this season, it was unclear where Willie Desjardins would slot Kassian in the lineup. With the roster overhaul, would Kassian find himself consistently in a top-six spot, or would he again find himself regularly playing with the likes of Brad Richardson? I think many people expected that Kassian, if he played well, had a direct pathway to a top six spot alongside new second line centre, Nick Bonino. However, thanks to injuries and his slow start, it never really came to be.
With forwards running in and out of the lineup, Kassian has been given a chance to showcase what he has learned (by default) from his stint in the press box. He has hit the ground running with 7 goals and 2 assists in 9 games, which is a good sign in showing that he is getting the message and may finally be hitting his stride. However, with the emergence of Ronalds Kenins, combined with the great play of the other bottom-6 forwards, we will see tight competition for roster spots, particularly when Alex Burrows and Brad Richardson return to the lineup. This means that the pressure to perform will always be there for Kassian if he wants to keep a spot in the lineup.
Despite the impressive play of young, puck-moving defenceman Adam Clendenning, the Canucks have a weakness on defence. Dan Hamhuis doesn’t appear to be 100% recovered from a groin injury, coupled with key injuries to Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler and Chris Tanev, it’s quite evident that the Canucks could use a top-4 defenceman. While Kassian himself could not help acquire a defenceman like that, perhaps he could be packaged along with another player or a prospect to help fill that void. While he may not have the highest value at the moment, Kassian still boasts a very impressive skillset with potential.
One potential trade scenario that has been rumoured is a Kassian to Boston scenario, which would bring back 26-year-old defenceman Matt Bartkowski. It remains to be seen how high GM Jim Benning is on Bartkowski, but I would guess that it would take more than that to lure Kassian out of Vancouver.
— Gregory Balloch (@GregBalloch) February 12, 2015
I changed my mind. Lets keep Kassian
— Zac Smith (@ZacSmith23) February 25, 2015
Pessimists claim that Kassian will never become the top-6 power forward that many people envisioned him to become when he was first acquired by the Canucks. Talk about how great he has been playing lately, and pessimists will claim how anyone can succeed while playing on a line with the Sedins.
While these points may or may not be true, it’s still impossible to ignore the meat and potatoes that Kassian brings to the table. He’s a big physical presence, isn’t afraid to mix it up, and has beautiful hands which gives him a great scoring touch, and an underrated passing ability. While finding the consistency and developing necessary hockey sense has been a challenge to say at the least, his injuries have also stunted his growth.
We have seen flashes of his skill during his past several games, however he just needs to be given a consistent spot in the lineup so he can find his niche and grow. Another issue has been gaining trust with head coach Willie Desjardins, as he has been shielding him from certain situations, and often keeping him out of games for long stretches of time. An example of this is how after scoring the game winning goal against Boston early in the third period, Kassian only skated two shifts for the remainder of the game, with the more dependable Radim Vrbata taking his spot.
In my opinion, Kassian is a guy who if properly nurtured and if put in a position to succeed, will develop and blossom really nicely.
Kassian needs to find a consistent home, somewhere in the lineup where he’ll be able to develop some chemistry with linemates. You can see how revved up and passionate Kassian has been to show what he’s got, but he needs to see the same linemates on a consistent basis. Whether it’s playing with Matthias and Dorsett on the 3rd line, whether it’s on the erratic 2nd line, or whether it’s with the Sedins, Kassian needs a chance to develop some chemistry and show how much he has developed.
It has been a revelation to see Kassian skating on the 1st line alongside Sedins for the past three games. The biggest test though, will come when Kassian cools off from his red hot form, will he still get opportunities on the power play and in the top-6, or will he be bounced in and out of the lineup?
The Canucks don’t really have a true power forward on the team who has shown top 6 potential (apologies to Shawn Matthias). While we have seen great success from guys like Matthias and Dorsett who are players of somewhat similar mold to Kassian, these two players are inevitably bottom 6 forwards.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have Kassian, who if developed properly, will add a different dimension to the top-6. Canucks fans have for years yearned for a true power forward who will be able to play on the 1st or 2nd line and for most of the time we have failed to find that type of player. Power forwards like Kassian don’t grow on trees; and while Kassian has shown obvious flaws in his game, if rectified, he will add that dimension to the team that we have missed since the days of Todd Bertuzzi.
While Kassian has been a force to be reckoned with when showing his true potential, he can go missing for stretches. With his fantastic production as of late, Jim Benning and Co. must be taking a long, hard look at Kassian and seeing what he has, and whether trading him is the right idea at this stage of his career. It will come down to how the Canucks view Kassian. Do they see a big, strong winger with top-6 potential? Or do they see a player lacking hockey sense, destined to never realize his potential?
We may soon find out.
Feature Image: canucks.nhl.com