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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Shot

There’s no cheering in the press box, but as reclamation projects and feel-good stories go, they don’t get much better than the one Zack Kassian is spinning when you look at where he’s been, where he is and the potential of days still to come as a member of the Edmonton Oilers.

Not only is Kassian, 28, coming up on four years of sobriety – the most important aspect of his story — after almost drinking himself out of the NHL, he has harmony in his personal life after becoming a father for the first time last March. His professional life is better than it’s ever been since he broke into the league in 2011-12 and it could get better still.

After being promoted to the Oilers’ top-six and then going on a heater on a line with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl late in the season on the way to scoring a career-high 15 goals, it sounds like the gap-toothed ruffian with the mean streak and great wheels is looking at an encore with McDavid and Draisaitl as he enters the final year of a three-year contract.

New coach Dave Tippett, talking to reporters at Mark Spector’s golf tournament Wednesday, intends on giving Kassian another look on the top line this coming season after he showed he was capable of more than just being spotted in alongside the team’s most talented players. Kassian will get the first shot with McDavid and Draisaitl. The rest is up to him.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

“I think Kassian is going to be a very motivated player,” Tippett said. “He’s an unrestricted agent after this year. How would you like to be right-winger, that those guys like playing with, and coming into your final year?”

Motivated? You think? Kassian, of course, had the opportunity to play with top-end guys in Daniel and Henrik Sedin in 2013 and against in 2015 during his days with the Vancouver Canucks, but he never managed to stick with them. Kassian was a rounder back then, and his off-ice issues played into things before he hit rock-bottom in Montreal. Clean and sober, not to mention more mature now, this is Kassian’s big shot.

Kassian’s ability to skate, good hands and his ability to process the game gives him the opportunity to play alongside elite players like McDavid and Draisaitl. Consistency, production like he showed last season – 14 of his 15 goals were even-strength – and staying on the rails in terms of physical play without stepping over the line into haywire, is what will keep him there.

“I know what I am, and I know I’m not a super star,” Kassian told Jason Gregor last March. “For me to be successful I have to be the worker. Every game I need to be physical and play hard. As soon as I play just a skill game, there are a million others who can play on that line. I have to do something that separates myself from other people, and that’s my tenaciousness, being hard on people, being physical, holding on to pucks . . .”

THERE FOR THE TAKING

Until Kassian proves he can play first-line minutes, or at least top-six minutes, over the long run rather than just now and then, there’ll be questions about his ability to stick with McDavid and Draisaitl. It’s also fair game to point out the Oilers are woefully lacking in proven depth and scoring on the wings, even allowing that James Neal will be more productive than Milan Lucic was. That plays into Kassian getting this shot.

For Kassian, it doesn’t matter how or why this opportunity awaits him as he faces becoming a UFA, only that it does. Not everybody who travels the troubled road Kassian has gets that kind of chance, but here it is and here he is. I hope Kassian takes it and runs with it. I’m guessing that the Oilers feel the same way.

  • Rama Lama

    Well he always seems to say the right thing……..working hard and not taking anything for granted is a very good way to conduct yourself.

    The thing I noticed about Kassian last year was his ability to hang on to the puck…….and not panic. If he can continue to do this and do it well, I suspect he will have a breakout year. It’s very hard not to like this player.

    Go Kass!

  • Hemmercules

    I remember when he broke Sams face I thought he was such a monster. Even when they brought him to the team later it was a tough pill to swallow. Fast forward a few years and I just love seeing him succeed. Both in his personal life and on the ice. Is there a happier face on that bench when any player on the team scores? Sometimes he gets the crazy eyes and goes on a chase which ultimate results in some sort of stupid penalty but still fun to watch.

  • Die Hard Oiler Fan

    Providing Kassian works hard and plays physical (per his quote in the article), I think he is a very good option as the third member of the top line, alongside Connor and Leon. He can skate with them, has some offensive capabilities, but also compliments the two stars well. Too often I think we just put the guys with the most talent (often measured by past statistics) on the top line. Connor and Leon score a lot of goals off the rush, but do not rate that high in terms of offensive zone time. Kassian gives them a guy who wins battles in the corners, and a net front presence. Oh, and if the opposition tries any cheap shot stuff with the stars (i.e. Mr. Turtle in Calgary), Kassian knows what to do. Go Kass.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    I am pulling for the kid.

    I thought he had the potential to play higher in the lineup back in 2017 and was regularly downvoted here for suggesting such a thing.

    Really hope he breaks through 25 goals this year.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Kassian made good on his chance the Oilers gave him, he had a horrible season the year after where he dissapeared and then last year rebounded. You have to like that he got his life turned around, some guys want change and can do it and some guys the addiction pull is hard for them to overcome

    Hopefully Kassian can build off of last season, getting to play with McDavid is a heck of an opportunity I dont know if I see it as viable all year but let him try and see how it goes.

      • CARLSOTO

        That’s a valid point to make, but I think that Rattie got rattled when he was making the right plays and taking the right shots around the net and getting stonewalled. I feel like the best way to describe Rattie’s season was the Florida game where Luongo robbed him blind a few times. After having that sure tap in goal snagged you could just see the disbelief on his face and his game fell off a cliff after that. Although as soon as Hitchcock was brought on board I new that Rattie would never get his season back on track. Hitchcock killed any confidence that he had left as soon as he started cutting his minutes and scratching him.

        As for Kassian, he has the tools that I think will make him successful with McDavid and Drai; he has the physical and mental quickness to keep up with those two, he has a big strong body that allows him to be the bull along the boards and help free pucks and not be pushed around when he’s at the front net, and he has the hands/skill to hold on to pucks and wait to make the right play. If Kassian can toe the line in terms of his “edge” and not take dumb offensive zone penalties and keep people from gooning Connor and Leon after whistles he will succeed on the top line. I know some Oiler fans look down their nose at Kassian and think he’s too much of a goon to play on the first line (my father is one of those fans) you can’t deny that he doesn’t look out of place and lost while out there playing a top six role. The guy rode shotgun with Hall in his Windsor days so he clearly knows how to play with forwards who like to carry the puck to drive offence.

  • Abagofpucks

    We pretty much all hope he can be a player for the next couple years. Whether he can play on the top line all year will be a tall order, but i hope he can. Plus we need a tough gritty player in our top 6 that can play. He can wheel and hold onto pucks, he can also go into the corners and come out with the puck, and go to the net and cause havoc in front of the goaltender. And if he’s gonna be in the top 6 we need him to.

  • Abagofpucks

    On another note Samuel Girard 7yr deal at….. what 5mil avv whoa.
    that’s a bit of a gamble he breaks out and becomes worth it.
    Not saying he can’t but that’s a lot for 4g and 27 points.

  • billsbills

    Well we are all rooting for him. I don’t think there is an Oilers fan dead or alive that would love to see him turn into a 25-30 goal guy. But let’s be honest, that’s not realistic. But if Draisaitl and McDavid have a consistent third on that line, it’s going to be what’s expected. That line is going to need to find a way to pump in 100 goals if the Oilers have any shot at making the playoffs.

  • Spydyr

    I like what Kassian brings as a player and his recover is beauty. The thing is if Kassian at this point of his career is your first line right winger well someone or many someones failed miserably at their job.

    • #97TRAIN

      He wouldn’t be the first tough guy who had a drinking problem that turned it around and played on the first line. Just like Ferland did in Calgary right??

      • BobbyCanuck

        Neither would Dave Semenko. If you are old enough to remember him, and what he brought to the table, you would agree that there is an elements to the game which are required when you play along side a couple of Hall of Famers.

        • Spydyr

          The only reason Semenko played with 99 and 17 was to protect them. I’m old enough to remember the game was very different back then and what Semenko did was very much needed.

    • Shameless Plugger

      I disagree. I think he’s a perfect fit for the first line right wing position. He doesn’t need to be special. He just needs to be greasy and not get in the way. Thing is though I think he’s better than that. He has skill and speed, plus he’s a pretty crafty and smart player. I honestly couldn’t think of a better fit for McDrai.

      • T Shuttz

        Drafted 13th overall in the 2009 NHL entry draft. The kid can play. He has a role on a diminished team, but he still has value at just under $2mill per. Who do you think is stupid enough to toss them with Lucic? I’ll bet Kass can’t wait to drop’em with Lucic come the first game with the flames. That is if Lucic is still in the NHL at that point in December

      • Glencontrolurstik

        I wholeheartedly agree 100% percent. I have always seen this in him. Effortless speed, great hands, good hockey sense and the sandpaper needed to give his line-mates some space.
        His production has increased year over year as well. What’s not to like. He’s just going to become more effective.
        I totally agree Shameless…

  • #97TRAIN

    Just to think last year it looked as if the Oilers and Kassian were going to part ways if Chiarelli could have found a team to take him.
    Thank god Chiarelli is incompetent and couldn’t find a dance partner!!

  • Cleetus

    Kassian was awesome in the playoffs, He owned that second game against Sanjose. Huge hits and that SH goal. YouTube the game of his life, it will definitely cheer an Oiler fan up. Love the hit against Logan Couture! He was amped up!

  • Ken McTippett

    Gotta hope that Kassian turns out to be the player we all thought Milan was going to be. Riding shotgun with McDavey and potting 20. No reason he can’t.

  • Abagofpucks

    I have a question for ON, now that looch is gone, Mcd’s so called protector. Should Mcd start to stick up for himself once or twice a year by dropping the the gloves, now im not saying he should just fight anybody but is it time he does. Crosby has 6 fights in his career so far heck even gretz had a couple tiffs on the the ice albeit nothing major in his, so what do you people think.
    Should Mcd have a fight now and then over the rest of his career?

    cheers for yes trash for no.

    • CARLSOTO

      Nah, if McDavid is going to have to defend himself you’d rather him not use his fists. IMO if players are taking liberties on him I’d rather him use his stick or take a run at the guy and just deal with the fine and misconduct. Colby Armstrong made a good point by saying every now and then star players should just do something to show that they won’t let opponents abuse them. If you spear a guy (not in the nuts or to injure) or take a charging penalty and blow someone up and get a fine then it’s just paying a little cash for some extra room. After watching the Ducks in the playoffs hack/slash/face wash/spear the Oilers star players after every whistle with no calls I wish the Oilers would have just ran Perry/Getzlaf/Kesler (when they were clearly going to lose) to show them that we ain’t taking the abuse.

        • CARLSOTO

          I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but it seems like Canadian teams only make it to the conference finals when the Canadian dollar is close to par. It doesn’t matter if the Canadian teams fill the barn every playoff game when 30% or more of the revenue gets lost because of the conversion rate. The 2004 final the dollar was close to par, the 2006 finals the dollar was basically par, the 2007 finals same thing, and the only other final with a Canadian team playing in the 2010-2019 decade was 2011 when the economy recovered to par. Ever since then the NHL seems to try it’s hardest to prevent the Canadian teams from succeeding.

  • Fireball

    I thought after he was paired with a McD in the Playoffs that he would be there the following season. I think that’s what got him that contract. It’s ashamed it took a season and half before anyone revisited it., he was on pace for 28 goals over 82 games with McD last year. I’m not sure why so many people were surprised to see it work. ( after the playoffs) Kassian was drafted 13th overall ., he’s big .., he’s strong on the puck.., he hits.., he can skate and he’s got the hands.. best of all he’s got the Crazy 😜 eye., he can chuck em. Perfect fit along side two 100 point forwards

  • Reg Dunlop

    I think Kass needs to go haywire a couple times a year. Lucic rode the Ryan Miller incident for a decade without going gong show. It would have served him well to earn a suspension once a season to just reinforce the notion that he is still capable. It would have bought him a little more space on ice. Oiler fans deserve a chance to see Kassian in his element, tough playoff hockey. He could easily be the answer to Tkachuk, only with far better wheels and enough character to back up his actions.

  • OilCan2

    Tippett is going to be an awesome coach for the Oilers. Having him give Zack the public OK for 1RW is a great move. Congrats out to Mr & Mrs K on their baby. Clean, sober and scoring a career high would be a very good statement in his upcoming contract year. Do it while I cheer you on.

  • goodtobelucky97

    I couldn’t agree with you more Mr. Brownlee, the 4 years of sobriety is the most important aspect of Mr. Kassians’ story.
    Many have already said it but I will say it again….how can you not cheer for Mr. Kassian.

    I’m also pleased to read in your article Mr. Tippets’ comment where he said he is a right winger that “those guys” like to play with…..I will assume “those guys” would be McDavid and Draisaitl?
    With the above being said, I’m guessing Mr. Tippet has already chatted with McDavid and Draisaitl about who will be on there line at the start of the year? That’s awesome that it looks like McDavid has Kassians’ back….. love it!
    Thanks for the good read Mr. Brownlee.

  • Kassian is just plain awesome, and the type of player guys like Jujhar Kaira should aspire to: fast, big, and tough. He really is the epitome of a modern-day power forward, and he plays a no-frills game. Very solid positionally. He’s also an opportunist, which is exactly the type of guy you want out there with Connor and/or Leon. It’s not enough to be fast, or even to have good hands. Be where the puck is headed…and be tough enough to claim it.

  • ed from edmonton

    So as the roster stand today RWers include Kassian, Chaisson, Archibald are the only RWs that are pretty much guaranteed to be on the roster. I suspect JP will be forced to show up ,as he is running out of options, and will also be on the roster. James Neal can play RW and LD can as well. But is Kassian can perfrom close to what he did at the end of last year he will he will be well rewarded in his next contract. Opportunity is knocking.

  • Crazy to think we saw a man’s life change in front of our eyes. Imagine telling Kass 4 years ago when his career was on the line and he was in the deepest depths of rock bottom that he’d be playing another 5+ seasons and would be one of the most beloved present Oilers(lets not forget how much we hated him before). He’s happy and things are looking up, his teammates love him, fans wear his jersey and he’s a got great opportunity this upcoming season. The hope for him to turn everything around his friends and family had 4 years ago came true

    • One of the reasons I love this franchise so much is how they traditionally have been willing to take a chance on a high risk asset like Zack or Craig MacTavish. I can’t underscore how important that is to a guy like MacT or Kass, someone trying very hard to sort their life out, to be given trust, confidence, and above all, hope. To have a team say “we don’t care about what happened in the past, because we believe in your future.” That’s so huge.

  • rnj

    My comment got caught in the language filter, so I’ll say this. Years ago someone else posted a comment just like yours, and Kass got his number somehow. There was a video of Kassian calling the guy on the phone. Kass was clearly bothered by the comment and asked the guy why he posted it. The guy on the other end was clearly crapping himself and had no answer because there is no answer. I hope if he reads the site you get a call and realize that being a clown on the internet doesn’t make you edgy or funny or cool, just exposes you as someone who doesn’t belong

  • Shameless Plugger

    As a recovering alcoholic myself (16 months sober) this comment makes me laugh. Jealousy is a strong emotion and usually brings out the worst in people. Be better man.