Kassian gearing up; Pre-draft comments cause Catfight

Zack Kassian is perhaps the most intriguing Sabres prospect in recent years largely due to his hands. He uses them softly to pass and finish, but also tosses them like hammers when the gloves come off.

Sean Fitz-Gerald of the National Post recently caught up with Kassian, who has been gearing up for his professional debut after a junior career that saw good headlines (Memorial Cup win, World Junior silver medal) mixed with bad (suspensions). At 6'3, 226 pounds, the imposing forward is going to have to manage a disciplined focus while easing his way into hockey's highest level.

"I need to play with an edge, but I have to make sure I don't cross that edge," he said Tuesday. "With all the skill Buffalo has, I think they need some grit and definitely some people that are hard to play against to give those skilled guys some room. I feel like I can fill that job, and hopefully, I can do it sooner than later."

Kassian scored 77 points a season ago in Windsor, but the skills that created solid junior production are going to take some time to develop as a pro. Zack will be best served concentrating on his 40-second blocks in year one, making sure he keeps his feet moving, finishes his checks, and simply stays engaged while adjusting to playing against "men". Part of that process will be playing a smart game that keeps him...out of trouble and free of regret.

Kassian earned a 20-game suspension in his very first game with the Windsor Spitfires in 2010. He went steaming across the ice in the second period of a game against the Barrie Colts, aimed his shoulder at Matt Kennedy and fired himself into the smaller forward's head, sending both the player and his helmet flying to the ice.

"That suspension, definitely, I wish I could take back," Kassian said.

That collision has drawn more than 175,000 views on YouTube, the most-watched video of Kassian's career. And it might very well have factored into the suspension handed out for his secondmost popular clip, recorded while he was playing with Canada during the world junior championship in Buffalo last December.

As with the hit on Kennedy 12 months earlier, Kassian stalked Czech Republic forward Petr Senkerik through centre ice. Unlike the previous hit, though, Kassian remained on his feet, tucked his elbows into his side and aimed for the chest. The result was still devastating. Senkerik was removed from the ice on a stretcher, and the International Ice Hockey Federation removed Kassian from Canada's lineup for two games. It can be debated that the hit, had it been delivered in the NHL, would not have drawn any supplemental discipline.

"My previous suspensions in junior hockey didn't help my case at all," Kassian said. "I felt like that was a clean hit. It was definitely not fun to sit through world junior games, and especially a big game on New Year's, but stuff like that happens in the game."

Kassian no doubt brings a balancing element that the Sabres crave. His work begins next weekend when the Sabres ice a squad at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament.


Elsewhere around the rinks...

The Sault Star reported this week that pre-draft comments by Hounds GM Kyle Dubas were the reason behind the Daniel Catenacci trade request. Remember, Cat was rumored to be telling friends that the request was not his decision.

The decision to seek a trade, according to a reliable source with knowledge of the situation, originated with the player's father, Maurice Catenacci.

And wait until you learn the reason why.

According to the source, Maurice was miffed over comments made by the new Hounds general manager, Kyle Dubas, in a June 21 article in The Star.

In a series of stories that ran before the June 24-25 NHL Entry Draft, each of the five Hounds players who were rated by NHL Central Scouting were profiled.

In an article dealing with defenceman Ryan Sproul's draft prospects, Dubas cited numerous calls he'd received from NHL scouts inquiring about Sproul.

And, based on that, the GM predicted big things at the draft for the six-foot-four, 190-pounder.

Dubas said NHL teams were telling him "Sproul could be a first-round pick."

Dubas added: "I don't think he gets past the 50th pick" and "it's very possible he could be the first Greyhounds player taken."

Which, by the way, is exactly what happened.

While he didn't go in the first round or in the top 50, Sproul was the first Greyhounds player selected.

The Mississauga native was chosen in the second round, 55th overall, by the Detroit Red Wings. Another Soo player, centre Nick Cousins, was next to go, a third-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers and the 68th player chosen.

Catenacci went later in Round 3, 77th overall to the Buffalo Sabres.

According to my source, Maurice Catenacci, apparently angered by the GMs comments and feeling Dubas's words actually hurt Daniel's draft prospects, decided it was time for his kid to play elsewhere.

After having the trade demand met, the speedy center reported to training camp in Owen Sound this week and seems to be fitting in well with some familiar faces on the Attack roster.


Out west, Kootenay ICE netminder Nathan Lieuwen tells The Daily Townsman that he's set to go for his first NHL training camp.

"At the end of the day, it's not in my hands; it's in Buffalo's hands as to what they want to do," said Lieuwen. "I love this organization (Ice) and I'd love to play another year here, that'd be great for me and my career, and if they (Sabres) choose to move me on, then that's another step forward that I can take and play some games there."

Lieuwen, who was a sixth round draft pick this summer after a stellar WHL playoff run, will be one of two goaltenders that the Sabres take to Traverse City. The action should be a good first test after undergoing offseason surgery for a sports hernia that caused him to sit out the Sabres summer development camp.

"My sights are set up there so we'll see what I can do when I get there but what I'm really focusing on right now is getting back into shape, back into proper form so that when I do go there, I do have a shot at making some noise," he said.


Also from the WHL, Riley Boychuk has again captured the "Paul Gaustad Fitness Award", an honor bestowed to the winner of the Portland Winterhawks training camp fitness testing (Goose even showed up for the award presentation). In fact, the award is Boychuk's third in a row.
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