46
Photo Credit: Perry Nelson - USA TODAY Sports

Kassian is…the best?

We are three games into this season and the never ending tryout on the right side of the forward lines is still happening. Time to panic? Debatable. Time to evaluate the life choices that brought us here? Definitely.

Alright, here’s the story. Last summer, the Oilers traded their only natural right shooting winger who has consistently played in the top six. They received a third line centre in return — and I’m not mad about it because what’s the point anymore? — but Strome might try being a winger again anyway. The top right winger from last season got a fat contract to centre, except the team is so godawful on the right side that he’s been forced to play winger up to this point.

It’s fine. Everything is totally fine.

The Oilers continue to play musical chairs at right wing and centre because the void left by Jordan Eberle has not been adequately filled. That’s the risk that Peter Chiarelli took. That’s the roster this team has to work with. I was at least mildly more hopeful that things were sorted after Kailer Yamamoto blew the socks off of in training camp. The thought there being that even though he’s a rookie, there’s skill in a skill position and he had earned his shot.

Three games into the season, Yamamoto has played 18:26 — total. Absolutely none of his very few minutes have played on the power play. He was nervous in one game. Mostly invisible the other. And the club had him in the pressbox against the Canucks on Saturday. He has seven games to reverse this trend, at most, otherwise he will be getting a plane ticket back to Spokane.

It’s fine. Everything is totally fine.

Of the players remaining on this roster who aren’t named Draisaitl or Yamamoto, we need to start thinking about which ones might actually be able to hold down a job on the top two lines over the majority of this season. What I’m leaning towards, and I’m not overly enthused about this, is that the best person on the roster to be the 2RW is actually Zack Kassian.

First, we should probably acknowledge that Zack Kassian was supposed to be the fourth line right winger of the Oilers. This was so much the case that Kassian spent almost no time at all featured on any other lines during the pre-season. He didn’t get a test drive until the regular season, which is probably a week too late for it to have been planned. Frankly, Kassian is a really good fourth liner and in a perfect world that would be his place.

He found a role on the Oilers as a fourth liner and re-established himself as a person and a player along the way. We could wax poetic about it, but I don’t need the style points. He plays well in that spot and both he and management saw fit to sign an extension. No complaints at all.

However, now that the RW position looks like a desolate wasteland compared to a year ago, the survivor that crawls out of the rubble might actually be the fourth line winger. Kassian has a few attributes that work to his advantage. He’s gritty and big. He’s a 6’3” 210 pounder who was second among forwards in hits. Stylistically, he’s a Peter Chiarelli-type player along the same lines as Milan Lucic (who was first among forwards in hits). But even more important than that, Kassian can skate.

Zack Kassian is deceptively fast. The Nation’s Jason Gregor asked Pat Maroon a few days ago who can keep up with that McDavidian speed and he didn’t hesitate to put Kassian’s speed as second on the team. Sure, he cannot handle the puck like McDavid, but who can? If skating is the great equalizer in the NHL, then Kass has an advantage with his speed. When Draisaitl and/or McDavid gear up, he is among the very few on the team that can stay close.

Sure, but he’s a fourth liner, right? I mean, he’s never cracked 30 points in the NHL before. True story. He’s never had more than 29 points and he’s never scored more than 14 goals. Last season was his fourth-highest point total ever (24) as a professional. That’s not a lot to get excited about.

However, we might be able to put a better spin on this. Zack Kassian has been relegated to the bottom six for the majority of his NHL career. As such, he’s averaged somewhere in the 12 minute a night range for ice time. In fact, he’s only had one season where he averaged more than 13 during his six-year career. So we have to view his offence with the knowledge of his limited ice time in mind.

May 7, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Zack Kassian (44) celebrates a first period goal against the Anaheim Ducks in game six of the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

On a per 60 minute basis, Zack Kassian has been a consistently above average offensive producer for most of his career. Last season he was sixth among Oiler forwards in Points per 60 minutes during 5v5 play. He averaged 1.67 P/60 in 2016-2017. He was in the top five (among forwards on his team) during his final two seasons with the Canucks as well. So there’s a history here that suggests Kassian can actually create offence.

As for his competition, Ryan Strome had one great year producing offence via totals and per 60 minutes. He was a monster in 2014-2015 with the Islanders, but has fallen back to Earth in a big way. If practice lines mean anything, he’ll get another chance with McDavid again soon. I want to reserve judgment on Strome until after he’s played more than three games with the Oilers, but early showings haven’t been strong.

Drake Caggiula is a player that the Oilers have given a big push, for…reasons. He had seven goals and 18 points last year to go along with a brutal 1.13 P/60. He’s also a left-handed shot, which isn’t an automatic failure in the RW test but without the offence, you have to wonder if RW is the spot for him.

Jesse Puljujarvi might get a spot in the top six eventually, but he really needs to start producing in the AHL before he earns a job in the NHL. I have hope, but there’s no need to hurry him along.

Anton Slepyshev is an interesting player because he appears so bloody talented, but he’s another guy who needs to actually accomplish something. There is no history of scoring in North America to make him the go-to guy. I don’t know what he is.

Iiro Pakarinen needs to actually play hockey before we can safely slot him into the top six. He played 20 games total last year, including the playoffs and that’s combining the AHL and NHL.

That ends the players who are pushing to play on the right wing for Edmonton. We may yet see Jussi Jokinen moved to the right side, but that hasn’t been the preferred route up to this point. The reality is that at this point, Kassian probably has the best resume of the group. If Yamamoto is heading the direction he is heading, and Draisaitl is playing down the middle to spread out the offence, then the biggest, fastest, most consistently productive right winger remaining is Zack Kassian.

It’s fine. Everything is totally fine.

  • Rusty

    Oh look everyone, Henderson hates everything the Oilers have done. This is a total change of tone to everything he has written to this point.
    Yes the Oilers have a hole at RW. Yes they traded eberle, WHo was their best RW. Name a team with a perfect lineup with no holes and a GM with No bad trades. They have Played 3 games of 82! The Golden Knights and Devils are 3-0. The avalanche are 3-1. Everything will balance out. The sky isn’t falling. After a decade of losing its been ingrained in us to think the Oilers will always suck and any sign of trouble the panic button gets smashed.

    As for Henderson this might be the last post i read of his for a while. Its his job to analyze the team but the tone and content is just so poor its hard to ignore anymore.

  • Jordan88

    Kassian has hands and for a big dude can skate capable of protecting the puck has a good shot and not afraid to put the body through someone (Youtube Couture Kassian). I don’t see why he is not capable of 20+ goals a season. He also loves this team and its fans. If you told me in 2013 I would be a Kassian fan I’d probably pound your face in.

  • Randaman

    Zack was drafted 7th overall. There is more there. I truly believe that and last year in a small sample, he played well with Connor. I think this could be an option to at least explore so Leon can drive his own line and give us scoring depth.

  • Jordan88

    Also, anyone seen Yakupov in Colorado? Best 1 Million Joe Sakic has ever spent. Too bad he didn’t have a top shelf scoring NHL veteran, someone who has had success at an international and NHL level who could pull double duty Center and Wing who wants out that we could possibly get. Nope bet that doesn’t exist.

    • Cowbell_Feva

      I sure have. Watched 2 games and Yakupov is still the wondering, head scratching train wreck of a 1st overall pick he has always been. They are trying to put him into a position of success on the PP with extremely talented players. His stats may raise eyebrows, but his hockey sense and decision making is still as bad as ever.

      The look on Duchene’s face after one of Yakupov’s 2 turnovers on the PP against Boston was priceless. Kind of a “how did you get drafted into the NHL” kind of looks. Pure comedy.

      • Jordan88

        Offensive role players have their value on a team. Goals win games after all. I know he has lapses in his game but he has an aptitude for burying pucks. You can’t train a race horse to haul a wagon after all.

  • chasing#6

    What kills me is that a lot of justification was given to the point that the Islanders were taking on more salary and that’s why we had to settle for Strome…?? How stupid does that sound? Of course they’re taking on more salary, THEY’RE GETTING THE BETTER PLAYER! Better players get paid more…WTF?!? I don’t understand how we didn’t at least get a prospect/pick out of the deal. For the most part, I applaud Chiarelli’s moves but this one doesn’t smell so great.

  • J.R.

    I’d definitely like to see what Kassian looks like on that top line. He can definitely wheel and create space for McDavid.

    No idea why we haven’t seen the RNH at RW yet either. Nothing to lose from taking a look.

    RW looks bleak on the first line with Draisaitl there. Need to get him centering his own line.

  • Patrick Maroon had never scored more than 12 goals in a season before being put on McDavid’s line. Last year he nets 27. He may have better hands than Kassian, but not better speed. I’m not sure I want to put all our tough guys (save Looch) on one line, but jeez, give him a shot. Plus, heck…Kassian can get ten more goals easily this year just by having fewer waved off.

  • JimmyV1965

    It totally baffles me that RNH has never been lined up with McDavid or Drai. I just don’t get it. I know the coach likes RNH centering his own line, but this is ridiculous. Equally baffling is reading comments questioning the Eberle trade. I didn’t like it from day 1, but he was despised by the posters at ON. He was crapped on for six months at this site.

    • QuitForRealThisTime

      Agree with the you on the pointless Eberle hate that went around, Oiler fans seem to always need someone to run out of town which probably makes it more difficult for the GMs. That said Eberle’s lack of production in the playoffs probably sealed his fate that was inevitable due to the cap situation.

  • @S_2_H

    It seems as though every time I read a Henderson article the common underlying tone is that Chiarelli is horrible. Lets take this article for instance – it’s all doom and gloom about one or two roster spots. So lets expand on this and review the whole roster, not individually, but just at any potential question marks.

    – The lack of a top six RW. Henderson covered this.

    – The back-up goaltending position could be a concern – but only due to a lack of proven track record (early signs are Brossoit will be fine).

    – The lack of a true number one stud on D. Ok the Oilers don’t have one, but neither do at least 20 other teams in the league. And the Oilers proved in the playoffs that their D can compete by committee. More so, expect them to take a step forward this year. Growth from within, although not guaranteed, is extremely likely and a safe bet considering the age and potential of most of the personnel.

    Chiarelli has filled out about 85-90% of the roster with able players and very few question marks. He’s hoping one of Slepyshev, Kassian, Cagguila or Yamamoto (send him to Junior), can fill a spot or two high in the rotation. Show me a team that doesn’t have some internal competition by prospects and depth players to grab a bigger, or regular role on the team? Show me one nhl club that has a complete roster with zero question marks on it?

    What makes RW even less of a concern on the top two lines is the fact that Todd likes to run duos not trios, so if the top two duos are any of McDavid-Marroon and Drai-Lucic, or Nuge-Lucic (depending on how often Drai moves to the top line) then things are alright I’d say. The point is? Concerns of whoever rotates on and off the right side of any those duos certainly won’t keep me up at night.

  • Name

    Maybe we should have held on to Eberle for one more year, warts and all? I don’t see much in Strome, but trying to also reserve judgement after three games.

  • singlemalt

    Unfortunately Matt seems to have a burr under his saddle about Ebs. As far as I go, it really is a two hundred foot game and being good in one component and holy hell in all of the rest is not going to cut it. We don’t need a one dimensional player. And you did watch the play offs right? How did that performance inform you?

  • Svart kaffe

    Would like to see Kassian given a shot with McDavid, but I wouldn’t mind keeping the Lucic-RNH-Kassian line either. They seemed to gel as long as Lucic plays well. Which I think he has. He playing with more hustle than last year and his hands doesn’t seem to be made out of stone either.

    Maroon-McDavid-Draisaitl
    Lucic-RNH-Kassian
    Jokinen-Strome-Yamamoto
    Caggiula-Letestu-Pakarinen

    That would be my safe bet fantasy hockey lines. Of course, in reality players have chemistry, niggling injuries and streaks that moves them up and down the lineup.

  • gshok

    I don’t know why we didn’t take a flyer on Jagr. 1 mm, and RW depth… ughh. He played with the 2nd best player of all time. He could handle the pressure. Still confused

  • OldOilFan

    RNH stuck playing center: it could be mgmt is focused on his potential trade value and does NOT want him to be showcased at RW [where he would likely look better than any of the current crop of right-wingers]

  • OldOilFan

    RW blues…or potential gold mine:
    old guys [like me] find it difficult to shake the memories of Gretz-Kurri… meaning, RW is a potential gold mine and the Oil haven’t tapped it yet.

  • Big Nuggets

    The center depth should help our mediocre RWers, in theory. Also if we had a top flight RW we would have to give up something in another area. personally I like the center depth. Assuming Drai actually plays center at some point. If we can hold onto our 3 centers then we need to find good bargain RWers. Jagr would have been a good start. I guess we can see how Shleppy and the others do over the next 10-15 games before making a rash decision.

  • Svart kaffe

    It’s kind of weird that Chiarelli can’t find another player like Slep or Kassian. Just a regular NHL RW who isn’t a kid nor a million years old. I really thought Chiarelli had a knack for these smaller trades. We could use one of those right now for a middle-6 RW who just works hard and chips in on a bit of offence if playing with a good C.

      • NoBuBlackOPS

        I agree with you that teams are still evaluating their rosters and trades will start to happen when teams know what they got. In the case of the oilers there not really in a position to make a trade. We are not loaded with prospects that we can deal the prospect cupboard is pretty bare right now. The oil are also not really in a position to trade draft picks after giving up so many the last 2-3 years.

  • Jay (not J)

    Drama aside I really don’t see a problem here. 3 games into the season. Let’s give the coach and GM a little time to assess what they have before pouting about trades we think they should make or things we wish thy did last summer or Jeff effin’ Petrey. It sucks that we have a mini summer right after the real one (weather sucks though) and we’re sitting on two weak performances waiting for the next game, but goodness if you’re gonna jump, jump already. There’s plenty of time to sort these things out. Reactionary moves now cut into the deadline budget so lets give the guys making the decisions enough time to make them adroitly.