Like most of you, the four-game heater Zack Kassian has been on alongside Connor McDavid going into tonight’s game with the Toronto Maple Leafs hasn’t convinced me he’s a fit there over the long term. We know better — small sample size and all that — because we pretty much know what Kassian is at this point in his career.
Likewise, I’m not expecting that bargain signing Alex Chiasson has somehow morphed into a guy the Edmonton Oilers can count on for 20 goals a season moving forward, even though he needs just one to hit that mark as the Leafs come calling. Chiasson got off to a ridiculously hot start, when everything he shot went in the net, so there’s no reason for the Oilers to throw a stack of term or money at him to retain his services this spring.
Neither Kassian nor Chiasson, who are both 28, are what they’ve appeared to be during short stretches this season. That said, both are NHL players with a team that needs more of those, and that’s something I hope doesn’t get lost in all the change we’re going to see on the ice and in the front office this coming offseason.
It goes without saying Kassian and Chiasson don’t belong in the same conversation as captain Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins when it comes to creating a foundation the new GM can build on up front, but here and now they’re as close as it gets to being sure things. Yes, there’s some maybe-guys on the way, but we know better after all this time not to count on that, no?
HEY, CRAZY EYES
With goals in four straight games and 12-8-20 in 64 games, Kassian might yet take a run at the career-high 29 points he had with Vancouver in 2013-14, when he spent time playing with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. That doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that Kassian has a blend of speed, size, hands and nastiness that allow him to play up and down the line-up. He’s good enough to be spotted with McDavid, rambunctious enough to bang and yap in the bottom six as a pain in the backside.
“I think I have the skills to go up and down the lineup, playing anywhere,” Kassian said. “When you’re in a bottom-six role, you’re trying to create more energy and get under the other team’s skin and sometimes your emotion gets the best of you. With this, the more you play, you still have to be physical but it’s a different kind of physical.
“You are going from 10 minutes to 18, from dumping it in all the time to puck-possession. There’s a lot of off-the-rush when you’re playing higher up in the lineup. It takes five or six times to adapt and I think I’ve done a good job of it.”
No argument here. The Oilers have Kassian under contract for another year at an AAV of $1.95 million. While that’s a bit rich for a guy who is strictly a bottom-sixer, that’s not Kassian. He’s playing 13:49 a night overall. His 12 goals leave him behind only Draisaitl (41), McDavid (33), RNH (21) and Chiasson (19). Plus, every now and then, he’ll go off on somebody.
THE BARGAIN GUY
As for Chiasson, who scored 11 goals on 32 shots in his first 20 games after signing for $650,000 as a UFA from Washington, I’m just glad Pete Chiarelli somehow resisted the urge to offer him $3 million a season for four years before he was shown the door. Chiasson, who also went 21 games without a goal, isn’t worth that kind of money, but he is worth re-signing.
While Chiasson is a bit of a plodder in terms of skating, he’s got good hands and a nose for the net. He can work the power play (six of his 19 goals are on the PP) and play a regular shift in the top-nine. Between the hot start and his ice-cold streak, Chiasson is still shooting at 19.6 per cent, which is a career-high for a full season. I see him as a player who can get you 12-15 goals a season. You pay him accordingly. If Chiasson asks too much term or money, adios.
Given the salary cap bind Chiarelli left the Oilers in, it’s obvious whoever takes over has to find some money somewhere. If I’m that guy, I’m not looking to get rid of Kassian or Chiasson to find it. A hockey deal? Sure. Until then, until somebody — Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto or whomever — proves they can be a productive, every-day NHL player or already is one, Kassian and Chiasson are keepers for me.
The Oilers need more of those, not less.
Previously by Robin Brownlee