Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

What should the Edmonton Oilers do with Zack Kassian?

Zack Kassian has had a tough season.

He started the season alongside Connor McDavid on the Oilers first line, but the spot was long lost. He didn’t seem to be the same Zack Kassian Edmonton Oilers fans grew to love.

He didn’t seem engaged and his game just seemed… off. It was a hard pill to swallow given the Oilers had just inked him to a four-year, $3.2-million contract last offseason — one I’m wondering if Ken Holland already wants a mulligan on.

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Nonetheless, Kassian had been demoted to the third line and seemed to be finding his legs. He then got called out by head coach Dave Tippett in response to questions about his play and then broke his hand in a fight on Feb. 8. Sigh.

A little over a month later, he drew back into the lineup playing 14 middling games in the team’s bottom-six. While the on-ice results weren’t anything to write home about, Kassian started to look much more engaged and as if he was shaking off the rust.

That is, until he suffered another injury. This time, something to his lower body as he tried to lay a big hit on Shea Weber.

Kassian’s been out of the lineup since April 21 when that hit happened, and now is practicing with the team on the Oilers defacto fifth line.

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His regular season? Far from anything worth writing home about. 27 games played, two goals, five points, and 18 shots. At 5v5, he posted a 45.82 CF%, a 40 GF%, a 45.34 xGF%, and a 99.2 PDO.

There’s one place, however, where we’re able to notice some good in his game. With him on the ice, the Oilers allowed seven percent fewer expected goals per hour than league average. So at the very least, there’s something good in his game.

But what happens on Wednesday night when the Oilers square up in game one against the Winnipeg Jets? Anyone who follows this team knows what Kassian can bring to the table.

It’s this type of game that the Oilers are going to need in the playoffs. While they have some of the best forward depth the team has seen in years, there’s one spot I could see him sliding into the lineup: on the third line.

I could see him easily slide in on a third line alongside Jujhar Kharia and Josh Archibald creating what would be a very solid energy line for the Oilers. Two big bodies in Kassian and Kharia and a smaller, yet still feisty Archibald.

We’ve never seen this trio before beyond three minutes of ice-time in which they scored a goal, but there’s reason to believe it could work. Here’s Kassian’s numbers with and without both players over the last three years at 5×5:

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Kassian w/wo Khaira 266:28 (1402:34) 48.80 (48.45) 42.86 – 9gf, 12ga
50.01 (48.15) 98.2
Kassian w/wo Archibald 111:34 (940:07) 44.12 (49) 44.44 – 4gf, 5ga (50) 42.46 (49.10) 100.6

With Kassian and Khaira on the ice over the last three years, the Oilers play fairly low-event hockey. The team takes 50.44 shot attempts for per hour, and allow 52.91 shot attempts against per hour.

This season both Archibald and Khaira have limited expected goals against per hour at even-strength at a similar rate that Kassian has, right around seven to eight percent below league average.

That’s a blend of hockey the Oilers are going to need from their bottom-six come the playoffs. We all know this line wouldn’t have any issue being physical out on the ice, but not only that I think there’s reason to think the trio could work well defensively, too.

Offence is the big question, and we’ve seen Archibald be able to chip in as a bottom-six player for the Oilers over the last two seasons. The overwhelming majority of offence in Kassian’s game has stemmed from playing alongside McDavid, but he’s still scored at a 1.6 points per hour clip alongside Archibald.

Kassian has shown to be a solid penalty killer in the past and overall, I think would be a much better option for the Oilers bottom-six than Devin Shore has been.

Through all of this, however, Kassian’s health becomes the most important thing.

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We should have a better idea of what the Oilers lines will look like in the coming days.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]