An Ode to Disillusionment
This was supposed to be Zack Kassian‘s year. Out with Alain Vigneault and his decidedly bad reputation – earned fairly or otherwise – for developing youngsters, and in with John Tortorella; he of the excellent track record with prospects.
All signs pointed to Kassian’s role increasing with the club. Over the course of the summer the media and fans alike all bemused the thought of seeing Kassian play with the Sedin twins again.
But here we are, thirty games into the season, and Zack Kassian‘s played little over ten minutes with either twin.
If that weren’t enough, he’s hardly spent an entire game out of Vancouver’s bottom-six.
This brings us back to a question that’s dogged everything Kassian related ever since he came to Vancouver in that infamous trade deadline deal: should be he getting more ice-time? and if so, should he be skating with better line-mates?
Striking a Balance
One of the bigger difficulties associated with grooming prospects into full-time contributing members of their hockey team is finding a way to strike a balance between coddling them or riding them until they haven’t an iota of confidence left.
Sure, the idea of handing Kassian all the top-six minutes he can handle sounds great, but what kind of message does that send to the hockey team if those quality minutes haven’t been earned?
And what if the Canucks were to continue to let Kassian toil in the bottom-six, with less skilled line-mates, and have to work his way up the depth chart?
A difficult line to walk, indeed.
But that’s where the Canucks find themselves in year three of this ongoing project. Kassian is just too good (and probably old) for the AHL, not quite good enough to play in the top-six, but suffering developmental setbacks playing on checking lines. What, oh what, do the Canucks do with this guy?
Time to Go All-In
For the Canucks, the time has come to go all-in on the Kasquatch.
While he’s done little, if anything, to earn time with the Sedins it’s long overdue that he land on their right wing. The thing is, while he isn’t necessarily driving play on his own, he doesn’t drag down the Sedin’s possession numbers either.
More importantly, they actually improve in their Goals/60mins with Kassian, without becoming a liability defensively.
Of course, were Kassian to take a spot on the first-line’s right wing, the trickle down effect would have Ryan Kesler back to centering the second; instantly the Canucks become a deeper team offensively.
It doesn’t have to necessarily be first-line or bust though with Kassian. Hell, even giving him some time on the second would make sense.
Just getting him that confidence and perhaps some more offensively inclined line-mates could do wonders for his development; the potential rewards vastly outweigh the risk.
Or maybe try giving Kassian the odd power play shift, as he’s averaging less than a minutes power play time per 60 the Canucks have.
They just have to find a way to get him more involved in the offensive game-plan. He’s a power forward, not a grinder.
The Road Ahead
If there was ever an opportunity, even an excuse, to get Kassian some more time in the top-six, it’s now. Alexander Burrows is out until the new year, and the Canucks have moved Kesler back to center on the second; the opening with the Sedins has, to this point, been occupied by Mike Santorelli.
If they were to switch out Kassian and Santorelli, the Canucks would instantly add to their depth by at the very least making their third line better.
And as for the first, if history has taught us anything, it’s that nearly anyone can succeed with the Sedins.