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.
“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.
“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
— Bakersfield Condors (@Condors) January 3, 2016
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.