Kassian gets the call

Written By Kris Baker on Thursday, November 24, 2011 | 11/24/2011

With Brad Boyes and Patrick Kaleta sidelined and Tyler Ennis not quite ready to rejoin the lineup, the Buffalo Sabres announced Thursday that rookie forward Zack Kassian has been recalled from the AHL's Rochester Americans. The OHL product will make his NHL debut Friday when the Sabres take on the Columbus Blue Jackets.

From the Sabres:

Kassian (6’3”, 228 lbs., 1/24/91), who is playing in his rookie AHL season, has played 18 games for the Americans this season and leads the team with 14 points (7+7).

The Windsor, Ontario native was selected by Buffalo in the first round (13th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He played in three games during the 2010-11 season for the Portland Pirates as they advanced to the Division Finals of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Here is my profile on Kassian from last spring's rankings article:

1) Zack Kassian, RW, Windsor Spitfires (OHL), 2009 1st round (13th overall)

At 6'3, 215-pounds and strong as an ox, Kassian is considered the prime-time power forward in the Sabres developmental ranks. After winning a Memorial Cup and getting his first taste of NHL preseason play, the Windsor native returned to his hometown Spitfires in 2010-11, cruising to an impressive 20 points in 11 games before signing his entry-level deal with the Sabres on November 1st. Kassian, who also scored three points in five games as Canada won silver at the World Junior Championship, finished the season with 26 goals and 77 points in 56 outings (2nd on team).

Kassian has the soft hands and edge to someday drive second-line minutes, but work needs to be done towards achieving night-to-night consistency. The bullish forward gets around well with a long skating stride, yet the key to unlocking the good in his game (his vastly underrated passing ability, heavy one-timer, and ability to hit like a truck) lays in keeping his feet moving in all zones. He did it often along the way to averaging 1.92 points-per-game prior to playing for Canada. He did it less when averaging just .94 points-per-game upon his return. Kass continued his hit-or-miss ways in the playoffs, collecting six goals and 10 assists in 16 games before a suspension caused a premature end to his junior career.

Of course the aggressive component to Kassian's mix makes the conversation interesting. Often compared to his idol Todd Bertuzzi in terms of frame, skill set, and OHL production, the 20-year old has shown a propensity for high hits that will need to be smoothed out. It's OK to have a short fuse as long as you can control when it ignites. Bob Probert was a mix of skills and aggression who sometimes spun out of control, and he too was a 6'3, 220+ pound Windsor-born forward with similar OHL statistics.

It's obvious that once Kassian gains the proper focus, he'll immediately add toughness and touch the Sabres' core forwards, taking confidence and space away from the opponent while elevating the play of his line mates. In a nutshell, it's that blend that places him at the #1 spot. After a brief playoff extension in Portland to gather his summer takeaways, expect Kassian to make waves in training camp and possibly cause interesting roster conversations at the start of the year, but ultimately spend the majority of his first professional season in the AHL. Anything more would be an over achievement.

There's no question that Lindy Ruff will be shuffling lines left and right come Friday, but where do you start the talented yet inexperienced Kassian? Recent call-up Corey Tropp has impressed with his effort as a fourth/third-line ladder guy, so perhaps Kassian begins similarly with fourth-line minutes. If he hustles, sticks to his checks, and more importantly gets the play to progress when he's on the ice, he'll likely rise through the shuffle. For now though, your guess is as good as mine.


Anonymous said...

Kris, Very Nicely Put...

I cannot wait for this kid to play.

Someone asked me before the season started Who is my fav Sabre was this year?

I told them Zack Kassian...

I knew it was only a matter of time before he got called up.

This is exactly what this team needs after getting humbled on Wed nite.

Give Zack a little taste and then send him back down.

Kris Baker said...

Not bad choice as a fave considering what he represents to the future core toughness of your beloved franchise. Not a one-man show, but a nice start. They've drafted a few guy who will quickly morph into gang tacklers when duty calls.

A little taste will be good for the kid. Expect the adrenaline to flow early. Games #2 and #3 (if they come) will tell a better story of where he's at in terms of being big club ready.

Anonymous said...

So how did the kid look u know he had an assist and was a plus one but did he look lost. Did he toss any good body checks?

Kris Baker said...

Kassian looked good. He protected the puck, finished some checks, and generally didn't look too out of place. Ruff obviously liked how he kept the puck in the offensive zone, putting him with Adam and Vanek in the third. It will be interesting to see where Kassian fits when the Sabres go at it with the Caps.

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