Rabid Habs

An In-Depth Look At Zack Kassian

Zack Kassian

On one of the most exciting days for hockey fans, along with Draft Day and the Trade Deadline, the Canadiens traded fan favorite Brandon Prust to Vancouver for Zack Kassian and a fifth round pick. Although Prust was a fan favorite and will definitely be missed, this is a great coup by Marc Bergevin.

THANK YOU BRANDON!

Prust, who signed with the Habs in 2012, had one more year left on his ten million deal but due to his grueling style of play, his play has regressed in the last two years. After a couple of awkward falls that lead to shoulder problems, the enforcer didn’t throw his body around as much as he used to in his heyday (122 hits this year compared to 188 hits in the shortened season if pro-rated). His scoring has also gone down every season from five goals in 38 GP, to six goals in 52 GP to four goals in 82 GP this year. That made for one hell of an expensive fourth liner at 2.5M a year.

Michel Therrien knew he could always count on the London native to defend a teammate, sacrifice his body to block a shot or kill a penalty. If there’s one thing that fans of other teams couldn’t take away from Brandon, it was definitely his heart. The man will fight about anyone, even if they have fifty pounds on him or five inches.

Similarly to the departure of longtime Hab and fan favorite, Josh Gorges, Prust leaving will leave a big hole in the locker room. Although he didn’t have the most skills, the 31 year old was seen as a glue guy, someone that would reunite the guys or fire them up by throwing a hit or dropping the gloves. He was also a mentor to Alex Galchenyuk and others. But as we all know, hockey remains a business and today Marc Bergevin did what’s best for the team business wise.

WHO IS ZACK KASSIAN?

The 6’3, 205-pound right winger is a power forward prospect. He has imposing size and has shown a willingness to use it.  While he may not have as much offensive upside as other forwards at the top of the draft order, Kassian’s total package of size, checking, and energetic play make him an appealing addition to a club looking for a top-six forward who can open up the ice for other teammates. An ability to put the puck in the net adds to his value as he has proven he won’t be an offensive liability with more skilled teammates. (Scouting report back in 2009)

Zack Kassian is quite the enigma. He was taken thirteenth overall at the 2009 draft by the Buffalo Sabres and was labeled as the potential Milan Lucic of the draft. After a prolific debut in the AHL with 26 pts in just 30 AHL games, Kassian was called up by the Sabres and held his own. That same year the Sabres and Canucks made a deal that seen as a blockbuster one (yes that sounds weird now when you read the names), where Cody Hodgson and Kassian were traded for one another.

The 24 years old winger’s stint with the Canucks has been filled with ups and downs. He had a pretty decent season last year with 14 goals and 29 pts in 73 GP without much ice time (less than 13 minutes a game and a minute on the PP on average). That year, he played with David Booth and Brad Richardson, they’re not bad players per se but they’re far from the cream of the crop. That production given the circumstances, his age and his package is definitely worth buying low on. He even spent some games with the Sedin twins and showed that he could play with the best of them.

Unfortunately for the six foot three forward, as much as the previous season gave him reasons to believe for an increased role, a coaching change that saw Willie Desjardins replace John Tortorella meant that his last season didn’t matter anymore; he had to prove himself again, but with the new coach this time.

The Windsor native didn’t see eye-to-eye with the new coach and quickly saw himself get stuck in the dog house. He was unexplainably healthy scratched for much inferior players (Brandon McMillan and Linden Vey) and saw his ice time actually decrease instead of going up this year (went from 12:55 a game to 12:37). The odd thing is that he played a lot with the Sedins this year despite the coach not being on his side. He played mostly with Shawn Matthias and Brad Richardson this season. One thing that’s odd is that he played a lot with the Sedins this year despite the coach not being on his side.

His main problems are his skating (which isn’t Devante Smith Pelly bad), his inconsistent play and the fact that he prefers to play a finesse game instead of power forward one despite his large frame. That’s one of the reasons that lead to Desjardins benching the young forward this season.

‘’In order for him to have success, he’ll need a coach that gives him more freedom, Burrows added. Two years ago, John Tortorella was playing mind games with him. He wanted him to throw the puck deep, finish his checks and drop the gloves. He’s a big winger, but he prefers to play with finesse. He likes to create plays in the neutral zone.’’ (Journal de Montréal)

Wait a minute… that sounds a lot like a former player who now works for RDS, what was his name? Ah yeah, Guillaume Latendresse. Latendresse was a highly touted prospect that was selected forty-fifth overall by the Canadiens in the 2005 draft. The now TV analyst made a big impression in his second training camp and forced the management’s hand to keep him although he was only 19 at the time.

The six foot two winger had a pretty solid stint with Montreal if you look back and take in consideration his age and his ice time. He scored around fifteen goals in his only three seasons there and that’s without a whole lot of ice time or Power Play time (never averaged more 13:36 during his time here). His teammates similarly to Kassian were nothing special for the most part: Maxim Lapierre, Tom Kostopoulos, Kyle Chipchura, Matt D’Agostini. It’s worth noting that when Latendresse did play with talented players like Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay or Alex Kovalev, he produced.

The problems with Latendresse were his skating, him not wanting to play like a power forward and his inconsistent play. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Jacques Martin wanted the Sainte-Catherine native to play like Tomas Holmstrom and park himself in front of the net, the Quebecois didn’t agree with the vision of his coach and that’s what lead to the Latendresse for Benoit Pouliot trade.

So what happened when Latendresse finally got a chance offensively with the Wild and players like Martin Havlat? He exploded offensively by scoring 25 goals in just 55 GP that season. Unfortunately for the 28 year old, concussions ruined his hockey career but he still got to realize his dream to play in the NHL.

One big difference that Kassian and Latendresse have is that the former is one mean SOB and the latter is a big teddy bear. That quality is in your DNA, you either have it or you don’t. Latendresse didn’t enjoy hurting other players (see Rob DiMaio incident), Kassian on the other hand kind of seems to have a sadistic side that enjoys it.

The right winger has a long list of suspensions to his resume: 20 game suspension in the OHL for a hit on Matt Kennedy, three game suspension in the OHL playoffs for a hit on Jesse Blacker, 8 game suspension in the NHL for high stick on Sam Gagner and a 3 game suspension in the NHL for a hit on Brenden Dillon.

That doesn’t mean that Kassian is a talentless puke! He has underrated vision for a guy of his size and I believe with the right teammates could become a solid second liner who can give you around fifteen to seventeen goals a season and about 45 pts. He could also be a good option as a screen on the PP (at least much better than our current options of Brendan Gallagher and David Desharnais).

It speaks a lot of highly Canucks fans thought of him when they expected a pick in the second round range or a prospect like Jarred Tinordi instead of the actual return they got. They were livid on the social media and hockey message boards and weren’t afraid to share their opinion on this deal. And I don’t blame them; on many levels this deal doesn’t make sense for them.

Montreal gains the younger player with more upside. They get a pick back. They get the cheaper contract. They get the player who’s a better fit for them (with Derek Dorsett already on their roster, Prust is not that much a necessity). It contradicts most of the things that their GM, Jim Benning, has been preaching since being hire: getting younger and building from the draft.

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

So where does Kassian slot in the line-up? Barring any changes to our roster I believe that Kassian will play on the second line. I think he belongs in a top six more than a player like Dale Weise. He has untapped potential up front and is worth the risk. I think a line with Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais or Tomas Plekanec could be a good one.

Who takes over as the enforcer for the Canadiens? I believe Tinordi will be the official ‘tough’ guy of the Canadiens and he can hold his own with about anyone in the league. It also doesn’t hurt that pure ‘enforcers’ are a dying species and the former first round pick won’t have to worry about fighting in a staged fight versus a guy who has hundreds of fights at the pro level under his belt.

WHO WON THE TRADE?

As much as I like Brandon Prust, there’s no doubt we won the deal. We got a fifth round pick aka the Trevor Timmins special and Kassian is a player worth gambling on. He’s the type of player who will help you in the playoffs. Even if he turns into another Rene Bourque who shows up one game out of ten, I think it’s a good deal for Montreal. Hopefully, this deal turns like the last one we made for a unhappy player in Vancouver (Dale Weise).

4 Comments

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  2. Wayne McCrae

    July 2, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    I think this article is bang on. Get that one mentor to help him get his head straightened out and he will be a power to be reckoned with. Good article Antoine. #all_habs

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