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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Edmonton Oilers player review and 2021-22 preview: Zack Kassian

Welcome to the 2020-21 season review and 2021-22 season preview player-by-player! In this, and other articles, I’ll be, well, reviewing the Edmonton Oilers 2020-21 season and previewing the 2021-22 season. You can read about the analytics behind my analysis here.

Will the real Zack Kassian please stand up?

There’s nearly no player more maligned on the Edmonton Oilers than Kassian — and a lot of it is his own doing. Now entering what will be his seventh year with the club, many are still trying to figure out what Zack Kassian is.

Is he the offensively gifted, big-bodied forward who can create space for Connor McDavid? Or is he the bottom-six grinder who struggles to generate offence away from elite talent?

Based on his 27 game season last year, it seems to be more of the later. Yes, of course we all saw the stretch between mid-2018-19 and mid 2019-20 where Kassian was a dynamic top-six player, but it’s success he hasn’t been able to replicate.

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Look at this last year, for example. In 101 minutes in all situations, Kassian scored just two points alongside McDavid, a meagre 1.18 points per hour.

Kassian’s downfall saw Jesse Puljujarvi’s rise. The latter was able to produce 2.34 points per hour in 612 all situations minutes. Sure, Puljujarvi had a much larger sample size but it was one that was earned last season.

Kassian had the chance with McDavid, too, but came out flat in the first dozen games of the season and force Dave Tippett’s hand in pushing him down the lineup. Then, as soon as Kassian started to show some energy, he broke his hand in a Feb. 8 fight. A month later he was back, then ended up dealing with another injury that saw him miss games.

All in all, the 2020-21 campaign was not kind to Kassian. His offensive game seems to have dried up and that’s a major issue. After all the Oilers paid him a four-year, $3.2-million AAV deal in Jan. 2020 right as was having peak success with McDavid.

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Good for Kassian for getting paid, but for the team it was a bad deal then and it’s a bad deal now. Despite more than a fair share of trade rumours surrounding one of the longest-tenured Oilers, Kassian will come to camp looking to make some noise.

I don’t think it’s out of the question to say he will be one of the most important Oilers forwards this year, in a sense. He needs to come out of the gates hot, but he needs to sustain production as a bottom-six player throughout the season.


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]