An Opportunity for Zack Kassian to Show His Quality

44-Kassian-2

People like yours truly tend to complain whenever there’s a
weak spot on an NHL team’s depth chart. For actual NHL players with their eyes
on moving up the lineup, though, any weak spot represents a golden opportunity.

This fall, the opportunity at right wing is one that Nail
Yakupov and Jesse Puljujarvi will seek to exploit, but they won’t be the only
ones. Zack Kassian’s major-league career cannot have gone the way he had
planned, but he can change the narrative in a substantial way if he starts off
well this season.

Of course, he’ll have to change the mind of his coach first.

Todd McLellan3

“I don’t see him as a big scorer. I don’t see him as a
30-goal scorer and doing that kind of stuff,” McLellan said
back in March
. “I see him grunting it out in the corners and filling that
role in a bottom-six position more than a top-six.”

McLellan made those comments on March 18, prior to a game
against Vancouver. In the nine games that followed prior to the end of the
season, Kassian picked up just a single assist. Over the same span, he did
throw 29 hits. None of that is likely to shift the head coach’s stated opinion.

Yet we know that Kassian can contribute more offensively.

Kassian has never really been used a lot on the power play.
Over his Vancouver career he spent roughly two and half hours on the man
advantage, and didn’t
really impress
. That might change with a different situation or more
ice-time, but there’s no NHL track record of big power play numbers and we
probably shouldn’t expect that to change.

What he can do is generate more offence at five-on-five.
Kassian’s first full NHL season was 2012-13; here’s what his 5-on-5 scoring numbers
look like in the seasons since:

  • 2012-13 (age 22): 1.04 points/hour, ranking 330th of the 420
    most-used NHL forwards that year (fourth line)
  • 2013-14 (age 23): 1.91 points/hour, ranking 95th of the 420 most-used
    NHL forwards that year (second line)
  • 2014-15 (age 24): 1.84 points/hour, ranking 101st of the 420
    most-used NHL forwards that year (second line)
  • 2015-16 (age 25): 1.13 points/hour, ranking 282nd of the 420
    most-used NHL forward (fourth line)

The above comes from stats.hockeyanlaysis.com, and I picked
420 players as my number because that equates to 14 per team (the amount that most clubs carry). Kassian had two very good five-on-five years in Vancouver,
and at the age of 25 he shouldn’t be anywhere near the downswing of his career.
It’s not hard to imagine why 2015-16 might have been a bad year for him –
between trade, injury and off-ice concerns it would have been a surprise had he
not trended downward. He should, however, be capable of getting back to the
level he was at with the Canucks, where he was a capable five-on-five scorer.

There are those who will raise an eyebrow at how good
Kassian’s 5-on-5 scoring numbers look, noting that in 2013-14 he only had 29
actual points over 73 games. Well, 28 of those points came at even-strength, tying
him with people like Shane Doan and Rick Nash, and only one back of Daniel
Sedin. He also had more even-strength points that year then people like Loui
Eriksson, Derick Brassard and Lee Stempniak.

Peter Chiarelli2

General manager Peter Chiarelli certainly seems to have
expected more last season. Asked in April about contract talks with Kassian and
Eric Gryba, he offered
the following
:

I’m not going to get into details on negotiations. Those
are two big guys and you’ve heard my comments on size. I think Grybs played
quite well up until getting hurt and I like the addition of Zack. He’s been a
model citizen. His production hasn’t been as good as I thought it would be but
he’s in terrific shape, he’s skating well, he’s doing a lot of the things we
want him to do. Him and Grybs have been two good components for our team.

It has been suggested that Kassian benefited while in
Vancouver from playing with the Sedin twins, and while there’s an element of
truth to that, he spent so little time with the Sedins that they weren’t really
able to give him a big bump. Look at his numbers with
and without
Daniel Sedin over his two big seasons:  

  • with Sedin: 183 minutes, seven points (2.30 points/hour)
  • without Sedin: 1,188 minutes, 36 points (1.82 points/hour)

So while Kassian scored more frequently when playing with
the Sedins, he spent the vast majority of his time with people like Brad Richardson
and David Booth and actually scored really well. Chiarelli was reasonable to expect more than Kassian delivered in 2015-16; it’s also reasonable to expect improvement in 2016-17. 

I wouldn’t project Kassian to jump back up to 1.8
points/hour automatically, but it’s within the realm of possibility and would
solve a bunch of problems for the Oilers if it happened. He couldn’t really ask
for a much better opportunity. 

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Ron Burgundy

    The competition at RW will be one of differing brands of potential – Zack’s got it, Yak’s got it, and Jesse’s really got it. You’ve written about the case for adding an established RW and I don’t disagree with it, but I can also see why Chia isn’t rushing out. If one of these guys steps up (and two of them only have one year to do so) you’ve got an in-house solution and RFA leverage. If they don’t, you can probably pick up a Teddy Purcell 2.0 somewhere down the line.

  • Will

    I was thinking about this the other day. Essentially Eberle, Yak, Puljujarvi, Pakerinen, Pitlick, and Kassian are all fighting for four positions. If the year starts with Ebs, Yak, Kassian, and Pakerinen, they will have no shortage of very big skilled kids on the farm pushing for their spot. And as we’ve seen, Chi and McLellan are not afraid to send people down.

    For Kassian, who sounds like he’s been working his ass off in the off season, who has said he wants Edmonton to be the last place he goes, I really think he might not start in the top six; but if he gets a sliver of a chance to play with McDavid or Nuge or Draisaitl, he’s gonna make the most of it.

    At any rate, I am so pumped to see Lucic, Maroon, and Kassian all share the same ice in a single game. I almost feel bad for the opposition. Who wants to go up against that?

  • Alberta Bound Edmonton

    You’ve got to forgive and then believe. Tough to get past Gagner but if truly wants to be part of this team then more power to him. I see him in the top nine but he may wind up on the fourth line. Good luck Zack.

  • OilCan2

    Yikes! Depth at RW?

    OK Ebs then Yak then Jesse and Zack. That should give us some even strength scoring from the bottom six. The big IF is who grabs the brass ring and pulls themselves up a notch?

  • BlueHairedApe

    Off topic but is anybody else being attacked by spam bots while opening ON on mobile? Usually takes 2 or 3 tries to open this site the last few days without redirecting to ten different spam sites. Frustrating.

    • I often find this site unreadable as well, website locks up and then have an option to debug the script, but it never works. Have to manually reboot computer and try again. Never have this issue when reading on my phone, just on the laptop.

  • RJ

    I don’t deny that maybe he’s turned a corner in his life, and maybe this is the year he brings it every night.

    But it would be a very Oilers thing to do for them to rely on him only for his trademark inconsistency to rear its head. He’s a cheap fourth liner who can tease you that he could be so much more, but never brings it consistently.

    Also: with this coach, unless he is a TM favorite, he’s not going to get the TOI to prove he could do more. So unless Eberle and Puljujarvi get injured, Kassian and Yak aren’t getting top-6 icetime.

  • S cottV

    I watched Kassian very closely last year. Very impressed with the way he’s constantly scanning the ice and making good decisions about where to be in offense, defense and transition.

    He was our best winger in the defensive zone.

    Sounds like he will be leaner and in better shape this year, which means he will get to good places much quicker.

    Didn’t like the way McClellan handled Kassian last year. Had him all over the place and never long enough anywhere for him to settle in and get reasonably comfortable.

    At one point Kassian was off wing, playing with Yak off wing – and Letestu in the middle. Awful. Did I mention – we just have to get rid of Yak?

    If McClellan can actually get some complimentary forwards to play with Kassian in 3rd rotation, in the vision that PC wants (more rugged o zone possession through cycling, puck protection and use of the points), he should have an excellent year.

  • knee deep in it

    it is not uncommon for people in early recover to struggle at things which used to come natural. Your mind is divided and distracted. A year later, the changes could be quite significant.

    By staying sober, Zack has already won the most important battle in his life. Now comes the learning to live .

  • Shredder

    Put Kassian with Pouliot and Nuge. Send Puljujarvi down, bring up Slepyshev. I think Nuge does well when he’s got a big guy creating space, 2 might be really ideal.