This is the Zack Kassian that Canucks fans were waiting for.
Kassian, the former Canuck, has resurrected his career in Edmonton and his play through the first three games of the playoffs has been eye-catching to say the least.
After scoring the game-winning goal, shorthanded, in the Oilers’ 2-0 win over San Jose in Game 2, he scored the lone goal on Sunday in Game 3.
That’s two game-winners, for you counting at home, to go with a number of thundering bodychecks. And yes, you read right, he kills penalties now too.
He’s been a force for the Oilers, and a difference-maker in the series against the Sharks.
In Game 2, Oilers fans who once hated him were chanting his name.
He’s been credited with 13 hits in the series, which equals the combined number of hits by Edmonton’s other two big power forwards Milan Lucic (7) and Patrick Maroon (6).
It’s a wonderful redemption story for the 26-year-old, because 18 months ago his future looked bleak.
Kassian, the player brought to Vancouver in the high-profile Cody Hodgson trade in 2012, saw his value plummet by the summer of 2015. He was traded to Montreal for Brandon Prust, with the Canucks needing to include a fifth-round pick to close the deal.
Before start of the 2015-16 season, Kassian was involved in an early-morning vehicle accident while under the influence of alcohol.
“We are professional and we have to behave like professionals,” Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said at the time. “You have to be respectful and you’re lucky to be a hockey player. I’m a firm believer in character and that’s really a lack of character and judgement on his part.”
Though he was a passenger in the vehicle that crashed, he was put on waivers by the Canadiens before ever playing a game for his new team.
They’d had enough already.
Kassian’s time in Vancouver was filled with whispers of inappropriate off-ice activity, and his performance on the ice underwhelmed. He showed flashes of brilliance, but was never able to bring a consistent work ethic to the rink.
His play was so indifferent at times, that it even convinced many Kassian supporters that he was merely a big playmaking winger, and not a physical power forward that was advertised. “He’s just not that kind of player,” some people concluded.
Well he’s all that and a bag of chips judging by his performance this spring.
We’ll never know if Kassian would have turned things around in Vancouver or if a change in scenery was necessary for him personally, and professionally.
As we later learned, Kassian was fighting some demons while a member of the Canucks. By all accounts, he’s turned his life around and is living life sober now.
“I’ve made my mind up,” Kassian told Terry Jones of the Edmonton Journal back in December. “I definitely don’t want to go back to the way I was. My life in 14 months has been great.”
In December of 2015, the Canadiens traded Kassian to the Oilers, where he would begin playing with their AHL affiliate in Bakersfield. He was eventually called up and contributed eight points (3-5-8) in 36 games with the Oilers. At season’s end, Kassian re-signed with the club on a modest one-year deal worth $1.5 million.
Given where he came from, he was lucky to get anything at all.
While it’s important not to get too carried away with a string of three good games that left Oilers fans chanting his name, Kassian fans should be hopeful that this is a sign of good things to come.
Kassian’s regular season wasn’t spectacular on the stats sheet. He finished 10th in scoring on the Oilers, notching 24 points (7-17-24) in 79 games. He scored more points as a Canuck in 2013-14 playing in a third-line role under John Tortorella, and was on pace for more points in 42 games under Willie Desjardins in 2014-15.
But if Kassian can stay out of trouble off the ice, and be physical and defensively responsible on it, he’ll be a valuable National Hockey League player for many years to come.