Zack Kassian had an excellent start to his first season as an NHL regular in 2013, scoring 6 points in 8 games. He did that playing primarily with the Sedins before being taken off the line by Alain Vigneault. After being taken off the line and amid rumours that Kassian was spending a little too much time enjoying the Vancouver nightlife, his production dropped off a cliff. He ended the season with fans and the organization wanting more.
Before the start of the 2013-14 season, there was a lot of promise surrounding Kassian. Now 22 years old, Kassian had another offseason to work on his game and develop into a power forward playing in the Canucks top 6. New coach John Tortorella was supposed to light a fire under him. Kassian was also supposed to play with the Sedins, getting long looks with Daniel and Henrik in the preseason.
Then Kassian was suspended for a silly stick swinging incident and missed the start of the regular season.
When Kassian came back, he wasn’t playing with Daniel and Henrik anymore. He was playing with David Booth and Brad Richardson – on the third line. His play was indifferent at times and he saw a lot of the bench. He is averaging 11:21 of ice time this year, significantly below the 13:29 he averaged last season. It’s actually lower than the 11:56 he was averaging with the Sabres, when he was breaking into the league.
The Canucks need to decide what they have in Kassian. Do they think he’s a bust? A lost cause? John Tortorella described him as a project.
Whatever he is, if he has any potential at all, Kassian needs to play and play often. I’m all for discipline and think he needs a kick in the butt often, but eventually he needs to develop as a hockey player. He isn’t going to do that by playing 11 minutes of ice time skating alongside Brad Richardson.
Before this sounds like too much of a love-in for Zack Kassian, I want to specify that I am not a Kassian fan right now. I find him inconsistent, at times lazy/entitled and not very intelligent on the ice. And that’s part of the reason why he needs to play with the Sedins. Wait, what?
Yes! Zack Kassian needs to play with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. I’m sure I’m not the only one to think this after watching the Sedins enjoy easily their best shift of the game when Kassian was given a rare opportunity on Monday night against Carolina. This is something that Tony Gallagher has beaten the drum on for a while now, and I agree. Who better than the smartest, hardest working players on the team to show young Zack the way on the ice? If even a small percentage of the Sedins’ professionalism rubs off on Kassian, it will do wonders.
Now is the time to put Gallagher’s theory into practice. Kassian has been kicked in the behind for indifferent play and has responded reasonably better of late. With Alex Burrows injured and the second line of Kesler, Santorelli and Higgins looking as good as it does right now, Tortorella’s options with who to play with the Sedins is limited. David Booth is a terrible fit with them and Jannik Hansen has never produced in that spot either.
Though I’m not always a fan of Kassian’s play, advanced stats would suggest he is producing well despite his limited ice time. Kassian actually leads the Canucks in goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. Given Kassian’s potential, skill set and previous success with the Sedins, he is the obvious choice to play alongside Daniel and Henrik Sedin, at least while Alex Burrows is injured.
Zack Kassian is an important player for the Canucks this year, and in the future. Lets see if he can be the top 6 forward this team is missing.