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The Enigmatic Zack Kassian Has To Earn A Spot

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"I just want to fly under the radar and do my job and work hard."

That was one of the first things Zack Kassian told the media in Vancouver when he was traded here. I don't know if he was being sarcastic about the radar part. Flying under the radar is impossible with this organization's fans, myself included. "It is what it is," as former Canuck Todd Bertuzzi once said. Bertuzzi, a guy that many project / hope Kassian turns out to be.  Kassian has a lot of Bertuzzi qualities already. Some good. Some bad. The good? He has that unusual gift of big size and great hands. He can be very creative. Plays with emotion. He is a physically - imposing threat. The bad? He does not use any of those qualities consistently. He's often accused of being a floater and a defensive liability. Not a good-enough 2-way player. Hey, let's be honest here: Bertuzzi was a floater and a defensive liability too. Hell, even Kassian's childhood hero Mats Sundin was the same way.

However, this is 2015. Floaters are not welcome, unless they score 50 and / or 100 points. And even then, *AHEM DAMNED OVECHKIN AHEM* their game gets criticized. A lot of times I see Kassian abandon his physical game to become that skill player. Unfortunately he's been doing this ever since he left Juniors. Rochester Americans writer Keith Wozniak said this about Kass back in March 2012:

The hype that was built up around him and the game he played while in Juniors was nothing like the game he was playing in Rochester.

And more:

The downside to that scoring (15 goals and 27 points with the Americans) is that Kassian was often considered a floater.  He wasn’t chasing pucks hard into corners.  He wasn’t working hard to create plays.  He was always looking for that fast break down the ice that would result in a scoring opportunity.

Oh dear, that sounds familiar. From his Rochester coach:

"He has to play a physical game and if he has to fight he has to fight," Rolston said. "I think it’s part of the game and part of what he’s here to do is be a physical player. If it happens, we are not in a situation where we’re telling him not to fight, that’s for sure."

Wow, kicking it old school there, Rolston!

From former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff:

"I liked what he was doing on the offensive side of it for the most part. Good puck protection and hanging onto pucks. I’ve got a curiosity on where his physical game is going to go, and that’s it.

But he’s a young player. You never know with young players. It’s a little bit of hit and miss. There’s a lot of inconsistency usually, so in his case there’s a lot there. It’s whether he’s going to get it to that full potential."

Then there's this from Metro News'  Cam Tucker back in September 2013:

Tortorella appears willing to be show more patience with Kassian, which was something Alain Vigneault was criticized plenty for not doing enough of.

"He’s a young kid. That’s part of the process is patience," said Tortorella.

"We want him to feel good about himself. I want him to understand that going into camp but also know – and I think he does know – that he’s going to have to earn everything he gets."

Remember the knocks on AV the way he was impatient with the kids? The good old days.

A few months later, Torts said:

"We’re still in the process of trying to get Zack to process the game, not only with the puck, but away from the puck."

Even Torts had to bench or scratch Kass at times, even though I think Torts showed more patience with him than any other NHL/Canucks coach. That kind of patience is so circumstantial though. Is the team in the race for a playoff spot? Well then the rope is shorter and the noose tighter. If this was the Edmonton Oilers, Kassian would be getting to play in the top 6 a lot more and working his way through his mistakes. See: The Detroit Red Wings philosophy.

And here we are today with Kassian's name coming up for all the wrong reasons in the media. Trade speculation, benched, not in the top 6, party boy, lack of effort, lack of physicality, not living up to potential. All this with yet another NHL coach, who is very kid with young players, by the way in Willie Desjardins. Shit, I was trying to make this a more positive post about Zack but it's very difficult.

I don't know what the context was surrounding this quote from Trevor Linden back in July:

Oh wait...it was the media and fans? Kassian was sick of it:

"You guys run with that story — not me. I’m actually sick of hearing it. I think everyone is. I think we have to focus on the team and what’s best for the team and how this team can win....We want to be a team that competes and plays hard and rolls four lines. Wherever I might be is up to Willie and the coaching staff. I’m ready to play wherever they put me."

After missing a lot of time with a broken pinky finger earlier this season, Kassian still didn't crack the lineup when healthy. While Zack was out with injury, the trade rumors were there. From Elliote Friedman on December 19, 2014:

"4. Here’s another Boston possibility, albeit on a smaller scale: Vancouver’s Zack Kassian. Kassian currently is injured, but I can see the Bruins taking a shot when he returns. Jim Benning knows Boston’s prospects, it probably doesn’t cost Chiarelli a ton and Kassian has the edge Boston is looking for, although he hasn’t shown enough of it yet.

Late note: Boston may have cooled on this one."

No shit. The Bruins are 8-1-3 since that date.

The media is still doing their damndest to drum up the Kassian controversy and trade speculation because let's face it, that's how they make money. Benning told TSN radio on Friday:

"Well teams have phoned to inquire about him. Zack's a young player, a power forward-style player, we'll listen to what teams say, but he's not unlike a lot of other of our players that teams phone and inquire about.

If something comes up where we think it's a good deal for us or something, then we'll do it if we make the organization better."

Zack's agent refused to comment on the matter. I love that little cookie with the agent. Ooo! Controversy! No comment!

But the context of the whole interview should not get lost there. Benning also told TSN that he would not hesitate to ask players to waive their no-trade clauses if a sweet deal comes up, and the deal would make the team better.

If there is one voice in the mainstream media that I respect most, it's TSN's insider Darren Dreger. His take on the matter:

On if the Vancouver Canucks could be sellers on Zack Kassian:

"His name is out there. But again, we’ve kind of qualified when teams make players available as to whether or not they’re listening or they’re shopping that player. And it’s all in a game of semantics.

"But Zack Kassian doesn’t appear to be a fit in Vancouver. There were some rumblings yesterday that maybe the Boston Bruins have some interest – and I’m not sure the Bruins don’t – but there were those who were maybe speculating that a deal was getting close, and that certainly wasn’t the case.

"But I think it’s an easy connection between Boston and Vancouver because Jim Benning left Boston to go to Vancouver. He’s good friends with Peter Chiarelli, the general manager of the Bruins. So I’m not saying there isn’t a fit for Kassian in Boston, but the Bruins are back on track now.

"But I’d be surprised if Zack Kassian finished the year in Vancouver."

Really, here is the best scenario for Zack Kassian: he has to play his ass off and shed all of the aforementioned criticism of him. That is HIS responsibility. Play the 2-way game and stop floating. He has not earned a spot in the top 6 yet. Not on a good team. Why would you want a guy who is not a good 2 way player yet playing with the Sedins? It would be a disaster defensively. Has he earned the right to play on line 2 over Higgins or Burrows? Hell no. When Dreger says that Kassian is not a good fit in Vancouver my first thought is something I had already mentioned: Perhaps the best fit for Kassian would be on a rebuilding team like the Oilers or Hurricanes or haha, the Sabres (again). Maybe he could put his big-boy pants on instead.

The best scenario for the Canucks in all this: Kassian develops his all-round game and cracks the top 6 and the team thrives because of it. OR, Kassian plays better than he has and increases his trade value, which right now is not very high.

CLEANING UP THE TRASH

-Kevin Stevens did not kick some ass until he was about 24 years old.

-Johan Franzen sprung to life in the NHL when he was 29/30.

-Keith Tkachuk was about 21 when he started kicking ass and taking names in the NHL, same with Clark Gillies.

-Rick Nash scored 41 goals as a 20 year old in Columbus

-John LeClair was 25 years old when he started his siege in Philly on the Legion Of Doom line with Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg.

-Wendel Clark had solid years as a 20 and 21  year-old in Toronto but his career year came at the age of 27/28 being centered by some guy named Doug Gilmour.

-Joe Thornton really started putting up points at the age of 23/24. The same applies to Brendan Shanahan.

-Jarome Iginla was 25 years-old when he really broke out with a 52-goal season in 2001-02.

-Cam Neely was 23 years old when he began his dominance with the Bruins in 1987-88.

Common themes with all of those players?

1. They are not Zack Kassian. I don't mean that insultingly. Every person is different.

2. They worked their asses off to become legends

3. They had excellent linemates to create trifectas of terror.

It all comes back to EARNING IT.

On the issue of Zack's partying ways:

Give me a break. These guys aren't droids. They are human beings. Zack Kassian is 23 years-old. Simple Zack is just a kid still, in a goofy digital world where almost everything is caught online somehow. You don't think the power forward legends I mentioned above didn't hit the bars and party it up? As long as Zack shows up for practice sober and puts his 100% effort in he'll be ok. Is his partying an issue here? Do we know this for sure? No? Well then shut the fuck up.

Be like Shawn Matthias:

If Zack put the effort and game in that Matthias does, he'd be superb. Zack is far-more talented than Matthias is.

Conclusion (finally)

I really wish Zack would step it up and stick with the team. The Canucks' lack the potential edge, physicality and shit-disturbing factor that Kassian can bring.

His best NHL game so far:

Some more highlights that really display his scoring, but especially play-making genius:

This post has been brought to you by the final battle in Saving Private Ryan:

Earn this, Zack. Do it!

It appears he may be getting back into the lineup on Sunday: