Zack Kassian scored a third period goal Friday as Team Red lost the opening scrimmage of Canada's U20 Evaluation Camp to Team White, 6-3.
With the bulk of his time spent on the right wing of a line with Curtis Hamilton and Riley Sheahan, the 6'3 Kassian elevated his physical presence and forechecking ability in a strong third period. Bringing good energy to keep the puck low, Kassian's spark earned time on the Tyler Seguin line (in place of Tyler Toffoli) in the final twenty while at one point also getting double shifted to skate with Ryan Johnasen's unit. His goal, a backhand finish of a rebound to the left side of the net, was as much a typical Kassian play as the poke in the back of the knee on Erik Gudbrandson that led to each receiving minor roughing penalties. Minutes before, Kassian set a tone for Saturday's intrasquad match-up by advancing the puck and finishing a hit on projected 2011 top dog Sean Couturier. Kassian is playing his aggressive game in highly skilled setting.
Couturier (1G, 1A) helped lead Team White along with linemates Louis Leblanc (2G), and Quinton Howden. Kings prospect Brayden Schenn also added a pair of goals for the winning side. I expect all to receive a few bumps from Kassian on Saturday as players start to separate themselves on the Canadian depth chart.
Kassian is one of four Sabres properties skating in the evaluation camp in St. John's, Newfoundland, joining WHL defensemen Mark Pysyk and Brayden McNabb and QMJHLer Jerome Gauthier-Leduc.
Team Red played poorly through the first forty minutes, making too many casual plays with the puck and not communicating well enough in all three zones. 2010 first rounder Mark Pysysk was one of the Red defenders who put forth an "ok" performance. Paired with Pens prospect Simon Despres, Pysyk made a good play in the early third when he followed his sharp pass to a breaking winger by sliding into a shooting lane to register a clean shot on goal. I expect the Pysyk-Despres pair to tighten things up on Saturday as Red bounces back from a listless effort.
On the White blueline, #23 McNabb played steady and conservative while #6 Gauthier-Leduc also looked to keep things simple. At times it appeared as if Gauthier-Leduc wasn't focusing on the body as much as he was the puck. He was mainly looking to clear his zone throughout, once coughing it up near his net as Red applied pressure late in the game. In the shootout round to end the game, he showed great hands by roofing a backhand to the delight of the fans.
On Saturday, expect to see McNabb continue his sound defensive play while making good looks up-ice and supporting the offense with keeps at the blueline. Gauthier-Leduc's game will be angles and awareness in his own end to help get the puck out and make plays when it crosses into the opposing end of the ice. He's not overly physical, but his footwork should be used a little more to cancel out his man to allow others to fish for the loose puck.