It’s getting tough to watch Sabres games without the help of a roster sheet these days. Keeping track of the lines is a different story. If you’re not the type of fan who keeps up to date on the Sabres’ prospects, you might find yourself wondering exactly who all these new rookies are. I figured I’d take some time to profile probably the name that fans are most interested in – Zack Kassian.
Zack Kassian was born in Kingsville, Ontario on January 24, 1991. He is of Armenian descent. With his father dying when he was just eight years old, Zack relied on a strong family support system to help him through the early stages of his hockey career. A 6’3, 215 pound bruiser, Kassian has shown the ability to bring physical play to the ice, while still being able to display offensive acumen at times. His breakout season in the juniors came in 2008/2009 for the Peterborough Petes, when he finished the season with 63 points (24 goals) in 61 games. He also racked up 136 penalty minutes during that time. He capped the season off with a huge hit on John Tavares in the 2009 Top Prospects Game, leaving Tavares with a shoulder injury.
The Sabres took notice, using the 13th overall pick in 2009 to draft Kassian. For a team with a recent history of being considered "soft", the Sabres knew what they were getting in Kassian. He is the total package of what a team looks for in a player who can bring energy to the ice. But rather than a bruiser who becomes a liability on the ice once the focus shifts to the offensive end, Kassian has shown the ability to put the puck in the net. Most prospect analysts put his ceiling as a top six forward, with the potential to hit the first line if he develops his offensive skills further.
In his last junior season, for the Windsor Spitfires (2010/2011), Kassian had 77 points in 56 games, finishing second on the team in point production. His solid numbers continued in the playoffs, where he registered 16 points in 16 games. Sabres fans local to Buffalo got to see Kassian up close and personal this past year while he played for Team Canada in the World Juniors tournament. He continued his trademark physical play, but tournament officials were irked a bit by his style, suspending him for two games after a hit on a Czech player. Team Canada went on to win the silver medal, with Kassian contributing 2 goals and 1 assist in 5 games he played.
Ironically, Kassian said in an interview last year that he models his game after Boston Bruins forward, and current public enemy #1 around these parts, Milan Lucic. There’s no doubt that the Sabres could find great value in a player like Kassian (or Lucic for that matter) down the road. We’ve seen the type of energy that a player like Patrick Kaleta can provide in a single shift through physical play, big hits, and scoring goals. If Kassian pans out, we could have someone with an even bigger impact. With two points through his first two games, Kassian is off to a great start. At age 20, however, there’s no need to rush him up. If/when the Sabres become healthy again, Kassian will likely be sent down, with his NHL teaser being used as a motivating factor. For now, enjoy what he can bring to the ice at such a young age, and imagine what the future may hold.