Kassian Gamble Paying Dividends for Oilers

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Zack Kassian. A name that has gone hand in hand with controversy ever since he emerged as a high level prospect. Taken 13th overall in 2009 by Buffalo, Kassian has earned plaudits for his physical approach to the game, but it is his off-ice antics that threatened to curtail an NHL career that began with significant promise.

In the run up to the 2009 draft, NHL Central Scouting’s Chris Edwards spoke highly of Kassian.

Kassian is one of the toughest guys in the OHL and possibly the entire draft… He has very good play-making and puck-handling abilities.”

It is clear his talent for the game was not of concern to Coaches, Scouts and General Managers, but rather his behaviour and demeanour.

After being drafted, Kassian returned to Major Junior with the Peterborough Petes before getting traded to his hometown team Windsor Spitfires. Prior to his trade, Kassian was suspended one game by the Petes for breaking a team curfew. The major troubles, however, began after he arrived back in his hometown with the Spitfires. A check to the head of Barrie Colts forward Matt Kennedy led to a whopping 20 game suspension.

Upon his return, in time for the playoffs, Kassian played a meaningful role in Windsor winning the Ross Robertson Cup (as OHL Champions) and latterly the Memorial Cup. Incidentally, current Oilers teammate Taylor Hall was also on that team.

In what would seemingly have been the perfect tonic for the Power Forward to put his suspension troubles behind him, Kassian went the other way. An altercation at a bar in Windsor resulted in an assault charge. A conviction would have all but signalled the end of his Hockey career, as he would have been unable to cross the U.S. border. Fortunately, he was given a second life. An agreement was reached for the charge to be dropped in return for a compensation package.

Kassian was eventually traded from Buffalo to Vancouver, in a deal involving Cody Hodgson, and he remained in British Columbia until the 2015 draft. Oilers fans will remember his clash with Sam Gagner during a pre-season game, where Kassian recklessly caught Gagner with a high-stick and caused a severe break in the then Oilers centre’s jaw. Not only did Kassian fail to take responsibility for his actions and apologise, he then mocked Gagner’s protective equipment upon return to the ice.

It is fair to say his popularity in Oil Country was as close to non-existent as it possibly could be, but his play in his fledgling Oilers career in making strides to rectify that. Frequently the last stop shop for NHL reclamation projects, Edmonton is proving to be the fresh start Kassian desperately needed.

After his summer trade to Montreal, Kassian appeared to surrender his last NHL lifeline. Involved in an accident, where he was not the driver but was under the influence, injuries were not the only things to damage the winger. The Ontario native was further hit with an unpaid suspension from the League and was sent to the NHL substance abuse programme. It effectively ended his Montreal career before it had even started. The stars aligned, though, and Kassian was sent to Edmonton in exchange for Ben Scrivens, sought by Montreal to ease the problematic goaltending situation in Quebec.

Back we go to the playing ability of Kassian – the one thing that remained unquestioned throughout. Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli is famed for his preference of big bodied, physical skaters in the teams he builds, well evidenced by the Stanley Cup-winning side he created in Boston. Not only was Kassian a player that fit the Chiarelli mould, he was a player the Oilers were in dire need of.

As we fast forward the timeline to the present day, we can see the early dividend the trade is paying for all parties involved. Edmonton has got a player with a point to prove, in an area they were sorely lacking and Kassian has received one final chance to retrieve his career from oblivion. Indeed, with a goal and an assist, and an average of 14:23 ice time in his first 6 games, Kassian has impressed coach Todd McLellan:

“Zack is a pretty honest player, that’s the one thing I’ve figured out in his three or four games with us. He wants to do things well, he wants to do things right. His power game, his ability to power through people is important. It was nice to see him get rewarded with a goal. As time goes on here, I can see myself and the coaching staff trusting him more and more.” 

It was a risk free move for Chiarelli and one that although it is early days, has worked to date. If Kassian continues to trend in the right direction it could turn into a steal. As the Oilers continue to take important steps to returning to a competitive level, this is yet another positive in a season that has held plenty of them regardless of the current lowly position in the standings. Injuries continue to plague Edmonton’s season and the presence of an extremely capable player to fill part of the void is particularly welcome.

Whilst most variables are conspiring against the Oilers in their quest to end the 9 year playoff drought, Kassian could be an important and valuable piece moving forward. Due to be a restricted free agent in the summer, a new deal could possibly be forthcoming as part of the preparations for a major playoff push.

Kassian is certainly doing himself no harm at present and long may it continue.

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