Catching Up with Zack Kassian


A season ago, Zack Kassian was the player that Oilers fans hated the most. Now he’s wearing the blue and orange. For now those colours are on the jersey of the Bakersfield Condors but Kassian is back on skates trying to work his way back to the NHL.

Kassian made his debut in the Oilers’ system on Saturday night, suiting up with the Condors who dropped a 5-4 shootout loss to the San Jose Barracuda before just over 5,000 fans at Rabobank  Arena in Bakersfield. Prior to the game, Kassian spoke with TSN 1260 Edmonton about his first game since spending the last two months in the NHL Players Association Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program, and then being acquired by the Oilers from the Montreal Canadiens for goalie Ben Scrivens.

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“It’s obviously a little weird at first when you have a rivalry with a team in your division for so long to be traded to them but that’s the hockey business. Every team I’ve been on has been very welcoming so I don’t expect else from the Edmonton Oilers.” – Kassian

Kassian skated on a line with the Condors’ two most seasoned forwards with Matthew Ford at centre and Bakersfield captain Ryan Hamilton on left wing.

“I think it’s both gratifying and rewarding, and it’s just nice to be back out there. This is my job, this is what I love to do. My mind’s at peace when I’m out there playing hockey. The part I missed the most was the camaraderie between the guys and being in the locker room. I’m happy to be back.”

The Oilers badly covet a player with Kassian’s abilities. He got size, feistiness, quick feet, and decent hands. He proved in Vancouver he could stay with top-line talent like the Sedins. He’s a former junior teammate of Taylor Hall. Put one and one together. It’s up to Kassian to finish the equation.

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“If he comes in here and does all the things he can do, he won’t be here long. He’s the type of guy who can dominate at this level and if he does the things he has to do then before long he’ll be up in Edmonton. He skates well, he’s got an above-average skillset. He can play tough and he can put the puck in the net. There’s lot of things he can bring to a team that will help us. He plays hard, plays with an edge, and he’s got some skills. It’s tough to find guys like that.” – Condors head coach Gerry Fleming

Believing they’d found the kind of guy they wanted to build with, the Buffalo Sabres drafted Kassian in the first round of the 2009 draft. He was moved to Vancouver and thrived for quite some time until everything trailed off and he was dealt to Montreal this past off-season. Kassian never suited up for the Canadiens after breaking his nose and foot when the vehicle he was in collided into a tree prior to the start of the season. Montreal suspended Kassian. It was time to get help.

The Oilers/Condors might very well be Kassian’s last chance and he seems to grasp that reality. No specific timetable has been set on when, or if, he’ll be ready to return to the big leagues.

“My job is to play hockey. I’m going to do that to the best of my ability each night. I’m coming here with a good attitude. I’m going to take it as it goes. Putting dates out there, there’s a chance you can get let down. I haven’t played in a while. If or when I get called up, I want to feel like I’m ready and there’s going to be no excuses. I’ve got to get my skating legs, the compete level, the timing, all that stuff back. My main focus is on this team and like everyone else I’m going to have to earn my call up.”

From The Nest

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Matthew Ford scored twice for the Condors with Joey LaLeggia, who was back on defence, and Marco Roy adding singles … Kassian made three trips to the penalty box including serving a bench minor 40 seconds into the game when the Condors were whistled for an illegal starting lineup. Kellen Jones, in his return to the lineup from an injury, was down on the game sheet in the starting six but didn’t hit the ice … The Condors loss prevented a three-game sweep for the Oilers organization on Saturday. Prior to Bakersfield’s home-ice defeat, the Double-A Norfolk Admirals, behind 33 saves from Ty Rimmer, beat the South Carolina Stingrays 3-2 in ECHL action.

  • Strottie

    All I want is to see this guy succeed and find happiness. Not because I want him to make the Canucks look stupid for how they misused him, not to “win the trade” with Montréal, and really not even for the benefit of the Oilers. As a human being I want to see Zack be the best he can be – he’s battled and is probably still battling some pretty wicked demons. If he can get through this patch of his life on the positive side of things, then he’ll have a fan in me. Good luck and welcome to Edmonton Mr. Kassian.

  • Spydyr

    Here’s wishing Kassian well, but let’s get real. Zack has had multiple chances and there are reasons why he has not performed in the NHL. He is one mis-step away from taking his show to Europe.

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    We need some nastiness in this lineup.When Sam Bennett runs your show that is a major problemNo more cream puff hockey enough is enough .Bring on the Zack attack

  • Jiff

    Just maybe, he has figured out that “no man is an island”? If so I wish him the best, as long as he respects other players.

    You can be tough and and a bastard on the ice and as long as you are not dirty, players and fans will respect you. If our alpha dog ( TH) can keep this guy in line, I’m okay with giving him another chance.

    • Reg Dunlop

      Zack sure says all the right things, looks like we’re golden. Because recovering addicts would never lie or relapse.

      Good luck young man and remember, nothing good happens after midnight.

  • Van isl Oiler

    I am definitely in the group that was not happy to see Kassian come to the Oilers organization. Time has allowed me to digest it and more time is needed I suppose. It worries me that he sat a half season in Montreal and that they eventually decided to trade him away. That says a lot. Maybe it was because Carey Price is injured and they felt desperate for another option in goal, but Scrivens wasn’t playing so well in the AHL, so that’s pretty desperate. I have battled demons of my own, still am, so I certainly can relate to Kassians issues and so I know they generally don’t go away in six months. I see the thinking of Chia Pet on this move, but it’s a long shot. Scrivens obviously wasn’t in the future plans and you don’t get much for a goalie who hasn’t played well enough to be in the NHL for awhile, so we got a reclamation project in return. Do I hope Zack can turn it around? Absolutely, not only for the organization, but for his own sake. However, I remain cautiously optimistic.

    C’mon Zack, we’re all pulling for ya!

    • Dwayne Roloson 35

      Scrivens was actually playing great near the end of his stay in the minors(.942sv% last 5 games). He also had a solid pre-season with us too(1.97GAA .929SV%).Glad he’s getting his shot.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    As much as i dislike what Kassian has done, he’s a young guy who’s made mistakes.

    Let’s hope he can turn into a solid utility player who can move up and down the lineup while being a pest to the opponent. He’s got skill.

  • Spydyr

    As an older chap and like many other folks, both male and female, the demons we overcome are never far away. Takes a great deal of strength to manage one’s demons. Can’t speak for others but I know first hand that you truly have be committed in your battle. Here is hoping he attains the strength needed and becomes the victor.

    Sure would be good for the Oil as well. I hope the majority of Oiler fans helps him as an incentive to beat the Devil.

  • Spydyr

    I could be very wrong about this as I tend to see the good in people first and furthermost, and that naivety sometimes bites me in the butt…

    But to me…he sounds humble, he sounds appreciative, and he sounds like he’s taking responsibility.

    I also can’t deny that this sort of player is what the Oilers need. At the same time, I hope Kassian understands that the Oilers need a 2006 Torres, and not a 2015 Torres.

    In some respects it’s good he’s coming into a city where he’s hated. In a city where players are idolized and often party hard, Kassian has to earn the respect of the city and most fans will be cognizant of his off-ice struggles and hopefully supportive.

  • Wax Man Riley

    Kassian is a goon! HE is a face puncher and a pest and he can skate pretty fast and has proven to keep up with skilled players and he hits and I hate him! Unless he is on my team.

    Oh wait, he could be an Oiler? Looks like the kind of player we need.

  • Ever the Optimist

    he would be a far better option than Gazdic. Even face punchers need some skill now. This also solves a little of the …. protection for McD ….. Kassian-McDavid-Yakupov. Could be a real nice line.

  • S cottV

    He could very well become the best pickup in a trade we’ve made in a very long time.

    We need what he potentially could bring – big time.

    Don’t think that save for luck, many young millionaire hockey players on one of their many benders – couldn’t end the evening by wrapping their car around a tree or worse.

    Not excusing the behavior at all, but I don’t think he is anywhere near the mess, some think he is. He got busted though – so – he can’t f up any more. I doubt he’s a raging addict, even going through the NHL substance abuse program.

    I fully expect that he will make a big positive impact to our ability to win hockey games.

    • Kr55

      I like this deal. Very low risk with a player that might be trying to redeem himslef and salvage an NHL career. I hate him for what he did to Gagner, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him in an Oilers jersey and causing some havoc (without causing serious injury of course).

  • Spydyr

    Anyone know what number KASSIAN will wear WHEN the Oil call him up SOON!!!! I want to order my jersey tomorrow! The Stocton “goons” – Heat will have their hands full with Kassasination JR. Starts in 30 min. Matt Kassian is Kassasination SR. Any chance he will come out of retirement and join the OIL???

  • Spydyr

    This player has a lot to prove, not to me or anyone else for that matter but to himself. Be a good citizen and you will be rewarded with the dream job we all wish we had. At that point we can critique you as a hockey player and I wish you the best because our team could use a player just like you.

  • Van isl Oiler

    Anyone that thinks Kassian brings “protection” is fooling themselves. How did Matt Cooke protect Sidney Crosby from multiple cheap heats and concussions?

    If anything, employing players like Kassian, and Cooke, signals massive disrespect to everyone else in the league and puts a target on our most skilled players’ backs: It’s ok to hurt our best guys, because we’ve got someone that will go out of his way to hurt your best guys.

    Dangerous recklessness and disregard for others both on and off the ice, flirting with DUIs, “a lack of character and judgement” in Marc Bergevin’s words, scream to me a borderline personality. Substance abuse is part of the package—it’s not something treatment just fixes, and his “demons”, as one poster put it, are precisely what allow him to fulfill his role as an agitator. You can’t have one without the other, and no amount of upside on the ice (which I still maintain is illusory) is worth bringing that to Edmonton’s streets.

  • KACaribou

    Oh, and never mind that putting Kassian in an Oilers uniform would make us a laughingstock around the league. “You gave one of our skilled forwards a career-ending injury? (Because let’s face it, that’s what putting Gags on a liquid diet has been…) You’re hired!” Talk about carte blanche to headhunt our star players.

    • Spydyr

      You are not suggesting a injury that happened years ago and has had no lasting effect on his ability to perform today ruined his career?

      No his lack of hockey skills without the puck and his defensive awareness and abilities ruined his career.

      The Oiler “Braintrust” took years to see it . Every other team he has went to saw it much sooner.

      • Anton CP

        You are absolutely right, Gagner shows some flash of skills but lack overall ability to be ever considered as No.1 C. Other than the obvious flaw in his game that his inconsistancy in his game always give coaches headaches.

      • Reg Dunlop

        Kassian is a completed management decision,full stop.

        Gagner was run out of town by a Management Core looking to tank a 1/2 DECADE of Oilers Hockey to feed their sycophant braintrust.Sam is a hockey visionary who was on the Oilers when Pat Quinn introduced him and Edmonton to the NHS,a no-name online unheard of HOMEGROWN EDMONTON CITY OF CHAMPIONS Philosophy and System .Sam Gagner was beginning to take a Leadership role catalysed by impacts he was consistantly beginning to create using his OILERS TRAINING…not something external because once Pat Quinn officially utilised the NHS data set he freed Samwise and the Roster from future external influence conflict of interest accusations and he obligated future Oilers Coaches to aknowledge and consider the NHS by proxy ,Sammy was bringing the Core together….but Upper-Management did not want him to carry the Torch…something about an Oil tank..tis what it is.

        Sam Gagner was a CAREER OILER and he was a LOYAL OILER and he was FIGHTING THE RIGHT BATTLES and he was back-stabbed by his own Family.

        The inputs telling the Oilers bringing in Kassian will cure the Stockholm Syndrome are bold and the really weird thing is that if the Oilers now bring Gagner back as well the method they are trying 1/2 arsed would actually work whole-sale.They would get tougher,heal old wounds,bond in possibly an epic way maturing the entire core in one fell swoop .

        OMG bring back both Samwise and Kassian and you could heal some wounds which looked permanent on an ORGANISATIONAL level.

      • Dan 1919

        Yes, I stand by that. For all his flaws as a centreman, that injury started a death-spiral for Gagner that’s seen him get shuffled to three different teams, one of which (Tampa Bay) never even saw him play, another of which (Arizona) was never going to work based on their defensive system, and a third where he was demoted after playing through an upper body injury that may have been a concussion (he landed face-first after a hit in November).

        As a smallish, skilled forward with defensive shortcomings, Gagner was traded for another top-six forward, Purcell, not known for defensive play. The only significant daylight between them was Purcell’s being considered a healthier player—but Gagner’s injury history amounted to that injury from Kassian which set him back months’ worth of physical conditioning and left him struggling and unable to catch up mid-season.

        All in all, I feel it was unfair to judge him for his post-injury struggles (especially under Eakins) and to force him to try to find his way with a new team, especially before experimenting with him as a winger in a role similar to what Purcell now plays.

  • Ty Guy

    “Put one and one together. It’s up to Kassian to finish the equation.”

    I don’t have faith that he can tie his own shoes, if we have to hope he can solve this kind of complex math we could be in for a long wait.

  • Anton CP

    Hallsy stepped up and gave Kassian a fairly solid endorsement. He did say Kassian had to get his ‘stuff’ together. I don’t think you can hide who you really are in the team context in that your teammates know who and what you are all about.

    I’m fairly sure Kassian knows he is getting a great opportunity with the Oil. Who wouldn’t want to play on a team with a McDavid and a Hall and a chance to be part of a winning organization. Chiarelli and McLellan probably helped that decision too.

    Good luck to the man.

  • Reg Dunlop

    That says a lot. Maybe it was because Carey Price is injured and they felt desperate for another option in goal, but Scrivens wasn’t playing so well in the AHL, so that’s pretty desperate.

    You just said a lot.

    I accept he has demons. Lots of people do.Montreal needed to get rid of him and they needed a backup. lets face the professor had his moments..SJ record stoppage etc.

    Zack will be in the lineup sooner then later is my guess. Hell I remember stories from “the boys on the bus” days that are still NOT public.