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

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.
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