Kassian saying right things, but words best be put to action

Written By Kris Baker on Friday, March 11, 2011 | 3/11/2011

As expected, Windsor Spitfires forward Zack Kassian is saying all the right things after being benched for Thursday's contest against Owen Sound. As someone who judges people by their actions and not their words, I'm playing and wait and see game when it comes to the powerful 20-year old.

The story

Some quotes:

“We’ve got five games remaining and we need a lot more out of Zack Kassian and we’re not getting it,” said Jones, who dressed two players under the limit of 20 for the game. “We won’t be a contending playoff team unless Zack Kassian plays to his full potential.”


“I’m the first to admit, I wasn’t playing well,” Kassian said as he watched the game from a suite at the WFCU Centre. “It’s a wake up call for me to take a bigger leadership role and be a bigger part of this to help the team.”


Kassian has 75 points this season, but I've been quiet about my opinion of his play until recently. His raw ability makes him a #1 prospect, but his lax approach to this season has me close to dropping him from the top of the list. The guy was a Memorial Cup champion a year ago. Tasting a title win should get the hunger brewing again, not turn you into a coasting player waiting for his pro career to begin.

The way you practice is the way you play.

About a week ago, I penned a reply to someone asking about the forward's overall game and what to expect in his first contract with the Buffalo Sabres. Here is an excerpt:

Like most have said, Kassian is a big, tough guy with pro hands. He likes to set up on the goal line where he'll look to distribute or power it to the net. He'll be a typical paint player in the NHL. Effective around the net with or without the puck. If I watch him on the boards and in the slot and think of the overall toughness element that he can bring when "on", I think it's OK to consider him Bertuzzi-esque in that regard.

His issue is keeping his feet moving and bringing it night-to-night. He skates with a long stride but sometimes finds himself flat-footed away from the puck. That split-second needed to re-start makes a difference, so keep it chugging. Regarding the effort, I was hoping he'd use this season to start preparing for the daily mental and physical grind of an NHL season but the off nights have appeared here and there. They will need to be limited and eventually eliminated moving forward.

Down in Erie a few weeks back, he showed his versatility by playing all three forward positions on his first four shifts.

The Spits were awful that night. Campbell was a sieve. D assignments were missed. Kassian and some of the better players weren't playing with much fire, while Czinder was bringing it physically and Ellis and Carnevale were creating. I made a note midway the 2nd that some guys were getting double-shifted over Kass when all of a sudden he came over the boards (with Khoko + Ebert) and went to the dressing room for the night for "not giving 100%"....

His last shift that game followed a goal against which he was on the ice for. A few seconds after the faceoff he had an opportunity to put a guy into the boards and let his teammates know he was engaged but didn't take it. Even if you don't connect, even if you hit all glass, you need to go hard in that spot. This was one of those "off nights"...

One of the best things that has happened to Kassian has been developing a friendship with Marcus Foligno. Marcus is a natural leader with a great work ethic who comes from a hockey family. He is what Zack isn't. There are going to be days when Kass is going to have some guilty skating to do in practice. I think a guy like Marcus will help him understand when those days are....

So yeah, it's great that Marcus can help him with that, but there's still a need for serious veteran leadership if this team wants to get the most out of Kassian early. For now, little things like him staying out of the box are seen as positive steps.

One other note about Zack worth looking at is his average post-World Jrs performance. Ennis, Myers, Adam all took it up a notch after playing for Canada. Kassian had a flu bug shortly after his return (which involved a week off) and is still a point-per-game guy (10+14 in 24 GP), but hasn't elevated his overall game. He had 48 points in 25 games pre-tourney.

These aren't serious red flags. There's a lot to like. If Zack has his epiphany and becomes the monster on the forecheck/backcheck and commanding scorer down low, it'll bring the team up. There are things the Sabres will do to make it happen.

Also about the tourney, interesting that he was among the top FO performers when called upon. Cameron used him primarily on o-zone PP draws to get him to the front of the net right away, but long term it's an interesting thought based on his very good passing hands. His plan for now remains as a wing no doubt. Keep it simple all the way around...


Let's see where this takes us. The concerns I raised earlier are still lingering, and the time is now for Kassian to not just say that he's learned a lesson, but actually show it on and off the ice.

13 comments:

Eric, @kwijybo16 said...

Great post, as always, Kris. Kassian sounds like the type of player that could either sink or swim with Lindy Ruff's coaching style. Obviously, I hope he swims, but I think Lindy has shown that his hard approach can, in the right circumstances, make players mature effectively.

Kris Baker said...

Thanks, Eric. I agree with your thoughts relative to Lindy. Zack needs to enter the system mentally ready for professional hockey. As of now, I still have my questions. Lord knows he's already there physically.

By the way, I cleaned up the typos and repeated quotes from earlier. I had a busy day and was often doing three things at once. My apologies to all!

Have a great weekend and Go Sabres.

Dave said...

There have been some rumblings that Jones has lost him (and to an extent Ellis) with his heavy-handedness and penchant for blowing up at his vets. Not that I'm not concerned by Kassian's post-WJC's drifting, just wondering if there is anything to the possibility of a rift between player and coach.

Anonymous said...

Missing Chris Kreider right about now?

Kris Baker said...

Dave - To quote a friend up north, "Kassian has won Mem Cup, played for Canada, and has a contract in hand. He's bored."

That's not an excuse by any means because I think it reflects poorly on Zack if that's the case.

I won't speak to the Spits locker room, but Kassian is given things to work on throughout the year. Despite being a likable guy he seems to lack focus right now. Again, if truly the case, being a 20-year old with a sense of entitlement isn't a good start to your professional career but I think he's just in a mental rut. Getting benched is a message to back and work your ass off. That's what his employers want right now. Zack's ability to take over games will come back if he truly receives the message.

Kris Baker said...

I spoke to someone who attended the BC game last Friday after Kreider got his jaw busted. Same report as always - "the guy is fast and will score some goals. Nothing special in his own zone, that's for sure, but wired ok offensively"

I took a lot of heat for liking Krieder, and honestly he's been hot and cold with me since the draft. I like trigger men. I think the Sabres could use a few more obviously, but I've never been upset with the Kassian pick based on the Sabres org needs. If Kassian can flick the switch, the Sabres will be a dangerous team to deal with.

Dave said...

Thanks for the update KB. It wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility for the Sabres' communication to him to get going or not get any pro time late if Windsor gets bounced. Ice time remains coin of the realm, it's one card they can play here.

Looking ahead, wondering at who they might have around to mentor him next year. It's not hard to imagine Kevin Dineen will be at the top of many GM's shortlists for replacement head coaches this summer for one thing. Can Foligno help keep him tuned in and can he shake his own doldrums enough to strive for better? It leaves one wondering.

boos said...

nice work, kris...

i've never been on the kassian bandwagon...i thought they should've traded down or went after a center...

if kassian is a mental midget (which is what it looks like thus-far,) and is bored, what does that show about his character?

if he's at odds with his coach right now (possibly tuning him out,) can't handle a heavy-handed approach and is skating with a sense of entitlement, how does that help the sabres...is he a bigger version of derek roy?

i hope he works out and is worthy of the #13 overall pick, but the sabres organization will have a lot of work to do to get him to his potential...and i'm not so sure it'll be worth it...

also, ya got to wonder if terry pegula, ted black and ken sawyer have taken notice of this...they seem to want true professionals, not head-cases...

thx again for the great work, kris

Anonymous said...

remember when you just turned 20 ?

Kris Baker said...

3:36 - I do, and if I could go back and do it all over again, I'd be more accountable with the things I was doing and take the advice of those trying to help me achieve my goals in a very competitive marketplace.

I'm not being overly critical at all. I'm very sensitive to that when using this space to let people know what's happening with young hockey players. The thing is, the contract he signed is commitment to working. Zack is quoted as saying he needs to play a bigger role, so I think it's fair to wait and see how he responds on the ice.

Regarding his skill assessment, I think it's clear that he can be dominant player if he puts his nose to the grindstone when he turns pro. However, I'd prefer he plays less bored and more with a sense of urgency now to win a championship without Taylor Hall as the main cog.

Dave said...

Jones still mum on whether he will be back in the lineup today or not: http://www.windsorstar.com/sports/Local+hockey+roundup+Canadiens+final+Kassian+skates+Wildcats+action/4427489/story.html

Kris Baker said...

Kassian will be back in the lineup today.

Dave said...

And a minus 1 so far tonight playing with Rychel and Carnevale so far.

Post a Comment