Zack Kassian: The Legendary Player that Never Was

When trade deadline day started earlier this week on Monday there wasn’t much talk about Zack Kassian going anywhere.  He was a player with a lot of hype and a lot of potential.  He was a player that Rochester Americans fans and Buffalo Sabres fans thought highly of and of what he was going to become.  Kassian was supposed to be this hard hitting, gritty, agitating forward that no one would want to play against.  For whatever reason he wasn’t really any of those things.  Some people seemed to notice and care.  Others were fine that he wasn’t those things at least in The AHL because he was scoring.  In terms of his legacy in the Buffalo Sabres organization he’ll go down as a disappointing player who in 30 games played with the Amerks and 27 games with the Sabres never fulfilled his role.

Kassian played the first 18 games of his professional career with the Amerks before being called up for the first time on November 11th at the height of the Sabres injury riddled season.  Brad Boyes had been injured in a game against Boston which opened up a spot for Kassian.  At the time Kassian had 7 goals + 7 assists for 14 points.  In those first 18 games with the Amerks we saw a player that appeared to be finding his game and not really sure how he wanted to play.

The only fight that Kassian was involved with all season was this one on October 16, 2011 against the Grand Rapids Griffins.  That’s right, only one fight in 30 games.  Teammate Marcus Foligno had hit a Grand Rapids player into the boards and was called for boarding when this fight broke out.

After this there were a few hits here and there but nothing that will stick out.  Kassian was playing the role of a top line scorer while with the Amerks which could explain his apparent lack of toughness.  It’s not that he needed to be tough, he was being called upon to be a scorer.  Anyone who watched him play in Rochester or Buffalo could tell that.  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.

He was involved with two fights with the Buffalo Sabres against Matt Martin (seen here) and Tom Sestito (seen here).

Kassian did some things well and one of those things was helping the Rochester Americans win hockey games.  In 30 games with the Amerks he scored 15 goals and had 11 assists including one game winning goal.  He had 94 shots with a 16% shooting percentage.  Even with only 30 games played, Kassian was 5th on the Amerks in scoring at the time of the trade.  In the shootout Kassian scored twice on four attempts during the season.  He was also selected to the AHL All-Star Game in Atlantic City to represent the Amerks, another sign that he was a positive asset on the ice.

The downside to that scoring 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.

When Kassian was traded on Monday it was amusing to read and listen to what was being said about Kassian adding toughness to the Canucks.  Mike Harrington summed things up with this tweet:

Zack Kassian never materialized to be the legendary physical player that he was supposed to be as a rookie for “Hockey Heaven” in Rochester and Buffalo.  That raises the question of why is that?  Was he trying to hard to adjust to a professional scoring game instead?  Was he trying to get away from the reputation?  Was he called up way too early in his career?  A move like that can have an impact on the mind of a 20 year old.  Were the coaches not too happy with the lack of a physical game and if so did they tell him?  The coaches never told him to not be physical.

Matthew Coller of WGR550 talked more about the toughness (or lack of) of Kassian here and here.  In the first link Coller said it well by writing:

Give Kassian time. Someday, that may be him. That day is not today. The Sabres will benefit in the long run far more by letting Kassian learn how to become a consistent force, rather than throwing him to The Beast.

Kassian himself was questioned about his toughness in the second link above and Amerks coach Ron Rolston told Coller:

“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.”

Upon the departure Lindy Ruff brought up Kassian’s physical game with The Buffalo News saying:

“I liked what he was doing on the offensive side of it for the most part,” Ruff said today of Kassian, who had three goals and seven points in 27 games with Buffalo. “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.”

Kassian had it pretty easy with the media in Rochester and Buffalo with everyone going easy on him and for good reason, he was a 20 year old rookie finding his way and although he wasn’t physical he was an asset to the team.  In general, the media is pretty easy going on athletes in Western New York.  The one run in that Kassian did have was with Matthew Coller and you can read that interaction in the second WGR550 link above.  If anything, that gave Kassian a taste of a more rabid media that exists in a lot of other cities that he’ll have to adjust to.  The Vancouver media brought that up in their first interaction:

From the National Post in Vancouver:

Before Tuesday night’s game, Kassian drew chuckles from reporters when he said he hoped to fly under the radar with his new team.

Good luck with that. The 21-year-old figures to learn exactly what kind of microscope he will be under when the media horde descends on him following Thursday morning’s game-day skate in Vancouver.

“It’s an honour, it’s a great opportunity at the start of my career t make a name for myself and to come into a great organization like Vancouver and where they sit in the standings and the opportunity they have in front of them,” Kassian said before the game. “I just want to fly under the radar and do my job and work hard.”

Told that may be difficult, Kassian smiled and reminded reporters that he does indeed have some experience playing under the media spotlight.

The Legend of Zack Kassian never materialized in the Sabres organization in only 57 games played between the Amerks and Sabres and because of that he was available for a trade and was traded.  Time will tell if he’ll become the player everyone had wanted to see but if it does it’ll be with another organization.