Many Canucks fans were less than ecstatic after hearing about the acquisition of Zack Kassian at last season’s trade deadline, particularly due to what it cost to bring him to Vancouver: Cody Hodgson. Not surprising, considering that prior to the trade deadline, there were talks of Hodgson being a potential candidate for the NHL’s Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. Kassian’s less than stellar start with the Canucks (1 goal and 2 assists in 17 games played), did not help matters either. More recently though, after dedicating himself to an intense off-season training program and following it up with extra allotted development time (as a result of the NHL lockout), Zack Kassian is showing that Mike Gillis’ investment in the 6’3, 214 pound, youngster will eventually pay for itself.
In 7 games played this season with the Canucks’ AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, Kassian stands as the team’s current leading scorer, having recorded 5 points (4 goals and 1 assist) thus far, illustrating that he has more to offer than just size and strength. This past weekend, he pleasantly surprised many Canucks fans present for a 2 game match-up seeing the Chicago Wolves face off against the Abbotsford Heat. Kassian notched a goal in each game and did not hesitate to showcase his multidimensional game-play, by dropping the gloves and coming out victorious. His newly found offensive skill is especially hard to overlook, with him having scored the first goal in four of the Wolves last five games (x).
The Windsor, Ontario native credits his recent success to the summer training program designed for him by the Canucks, which had him traveling to receive specialized training in Vancouver, Portland, and Winnipeg. Kassian’s training program consisted of training for 7 days in Vancouver with the Sedin twins, 10 days in Portland’s Nike High Performance Centre, and 3 weeks in Winnipeg with skills coach, Glenn Carnegie (x). His time with the twins proved to be extremely influential, Kassian explains, “[t]hose guys are great role models…They are always doing extra. When you see players like that with their caliber of skill working that hard it is kind of an eye-opener as a rookie to work even harder” (x).
Canucks General Manager, Mike Gillis is thrilled by how Kassian’s development has progressed: “You can see that the pace of his play is much higher…When he takes off now with the puck he is pulling away from people…He worked really hard and is getting results because of it” (x). Gillis went on to say that he and assistant General Manager, Lorne Henning believe that the young gun may be a stride or two ahead of where he was last season, which is promising news for Canucks fans.
Kassian’s development is a result of his positive attitude and strong mindset, which will be an invaluable asset for his future in the NHL. Chicago Wolves coach, Scott Arniel discloses that “[Kass is] eager to learn and recognizes the opportunity that’s been put in front of him” (x), something that can be hard to find in young players.
The big right-winger has noticed the difference in his game, proclaiming, “I feel quicker…I feel like I got a step faster” after having lost a few pounds and put on lean muscle (x). He adds that with playing more minutes, he is starting to feel confident with the puck, and is making more smart plays every game; the numbers speak for themselves. Kassian’s determination and willingness to learn should assure his future success with the Canucks, especially when he’s declared, “[m]y goal is to make my teammates and my coaches happy. I’m prepared to do whatever it takes” (x).
Canucks fans should find comfort in knowing he has shown signs of becoming something the team has been lacking, and desperately needing, since the days of Todd Bertuzzi, a strong, dominate power forward. There is no telling how far perseverance can take a player like Kassian, but Mike Gillis seems confident that “[i]f he continues doing what he’s doing I don’t see why [Zack] wouldn’t get a great opportunity with our team to show what he can do” (x).