It is no secret that Canucks’ General Manager Mike Gillis had high hopes for forwards Zack Kassian and Mason Raymond coming into this season. Kassian and Raymond both struggled to find their game last year, posting less than stellar numbers with Vancouver (Kassian registered 3 points in 17 games, while Raymond notched 20 points in 50 games played).
Kassian, acquired from Buffalo at last season’s trade deadline (in a deal that sent Cody Hodgson to the Sabres) became an instant target of scrutiny from fans eager to see what the 6’3 214lbs right winger could bring to the team. Mason Raymond was also criticized by fans and management alike, for failing to consistently contribute offensively after recovering from his back injury. However, thus far, this season has proven to fare much better for the two players.
In 4 games played this season, Kassian has impressed Canucks’ management, tallying 3 goals, scoring in 3 straight games. The Windsor, Ontario native has earned his way on to the top line with the Sedin twins while also seeing some time on the powerplay. On January 23, 2013, the eve of his 22nd birthday, Kassian played his best game as a Canuck, opening the scoring, with his second goal of the season in the first period, and ending the game with a brilliant, backhanded, shootout winner.
It is obvious that Kassian’s off season training in Portland’s Nike High Performance Centre and his time with skills coach Glenn Carnegie has done wonders in fine-tuning the young gun’s skills while enhancing his confidence. The tough winger finally feels at ease in Vancouver, explaining “[f]rom management down to the coaches to the players, I definitely feel more comfortable…[and as] a player, the more comfortable you feel, the better you play” (x). Kassian is starting to show signs of being the multi-talented power forward that Mike Gillis expected him to be, demonstrating that he is not only a physical presence, but that he can skate well and also pose an offensive threat.
The soft spoken youngster remains modest about his newly improved play and looks to only better his game over time, stating that “[i]t felt good [to score] [but it’s still early]… in the season. Obviously there’s a lot of players in this league that have great starts and then fall off. To me it’s about consistency. That’s been the big thing for me” (x). Kassian’s positive attitude, humility, and hard work will assure that he has a bright future in this league, especially when he has noted that constantly “[g]etting better is definitely the goal” in his mind (x).
Mason Raymond’s recent play has also silenced critics who have doubted whether he could ever live up to the offensive expectations set out for him by the Canucks. Raymond knows that this season may be the last opportunity he has to make a name for himself in Vancouver, stating, “I feel like I’ve got things to prove and the best way to do that is go on the ice and score some goals” (x) and score goals he has, 3 goals in the last 2 games to be exact.
The Cochrane, Alberta native has been playing with more energy and confidence than he has in years. Even after taking a cross-check to the neck by Anaheim forward Ryan Getzlaf Friday night, Raymond stood his ground in the front of the Duck’s net, showing that he is capable and willing to go to the dangerous areas of the ice to help his team offensively. He explains, [i]t’s about finding those holes and getting to the areas where the puck is going to come to you and that’s the front of the net” (x).
While Canucks management are ecstatic to see Kassian and Raymond excelling early this season, nobody is happier than the two forwards themselves. Raymond stresses, “[i]t feels good when you’re contributing, and these are the days you live for” (x). As the Canucks leading goal scorers thus far, Kass and Mase have plenty to feel good about this season.