Tough, skilled Kassian has caught Burke's eye


Brian Burke just chuckled when asked about Zack Kassian.


Brian Burke just chuckled when asked about Zack Kassian.

"He's big, tough, skilled, hostile and belligerent. Naw, I don't like him," said Burke with tongue firmly tucked in cheek. "Why would I want a player like that?"

Indeed, if there's a player in this Friday's NHL entry draft who would appear to be exactly the kind of athlete Burke is looking for as he rebuilds the Maple Leafs, it would be Kassian, the nasty piece of business who patrolled the wing for ex-Leaf Ken McRae's Peterborough Petes this past season.

Even better, Kassian is a pug with a scorer's touch, a personality and a quick wit. He said he hasn't bothered to take boxing lessons or instruction in martial arts like many hockey players.

"Nothin'," he said.

"I just throw punches and try not to get hit too often."

Asked if he has a suit for the draft, he said, "Oh yeah, I'm gonna look good."

Kassian grew up in Lasalle, Ont., near Windsor, lost his dad at age 12 and idolizes his older brother, Mike, who keeps him on the straight-and-narrow. His mother cleans homes and his stepfather is an Ontario Provincial Police officer.

"I've had people say I'm a Burke-type player," he said yesterday in an interview. "What does that mean? Well, I'm a big guy, physical, but I can play and I don't mind fighting. That separates me from most guys in the draft. I wouldn't be who I am if I just tried to score goals."

Kassian laughed yesterday when he told of his first hockey fight during a bantam line brawl between his Windsor Jr. Spitfires and the Waterloo Wolves.

"It was just a mess. Guys got their teeth knocked out and there was blood everywhere," he said.

"It was pretty fun."

We can, of course, debate all day long whether this is the direction the Leafs should be heading in, but the fact of the matter is the NHL is back to promoting fighting these days, and this is the type of team Burke intends to develop, period and end of story.

Where he gets the players to do the job, however, is where it gets interesting. Maybe it'll be through available veteran scrappers like Todd Fedoruk or Andrew Peters, or maybe it will be in this draft when there are plenty of unrefined scrappers available in the latter rounds.

You can bet the next coach of the AHL Marlies will be an individual comfortable with the use of muscle.

The Leafs had Kassian in for extra testing after the NHL combine in late May, but his circumstances make him a tricky pick for the Leafs. He's not rated high enough to go at No.7, the Leafs' current slot, and Burke's stated intention is to move up in the draft, possibly to No.1.

"Mostly teams are still saying no," said Burke. "But it's early. The countdown hasn't even started."

That said, Kassian won't make it to the second round. If the Leafs can't move up, they could also move down into the range – 13th to 16th – where Kassian is projected to be taken.

Last year with Anaheim, Burke traded down twice, moving the 12th pick to Los Angeles for the 17th and 28th selections, then swapping the 28th pick to Phoenix in exchange for two second-round selections.

"I've already told teams below us that if can't move up, we could well be moving down," said Burke.

So Burke, probably inclined to go for Canadian-bred talent in this draft to balance out the Euro-heavy Leafs, can salivate in two directions – upward if he has his eye on John Tavares, Evander Kane or Brayden Schenn; downward if Kassian's toughness is too irresistible to pass up.

Then again, these Leafs need everything.

So every prospect out there looks like a perfect fit.


Top-end skill

There are not enough players capable of skating on top two lines.


GM Brian Burke felt his small team got pushed around, and that will change.


The Leafs almost certainly will select a goalie.


Brayden Schenn, forward

Brandon (WHL)

Brother of Luke seems to be going up on everyone's chart. If Leafs stay at No.7, he'll likely be gone.

Jared Cowan, defence

Spokane (WHL)

Big thumper missed most of last season with a serious knee injury. Has size, toughness Burke likes.

Nazem Kadri, centre

London (OHL)

Great wheels. Addresses Leafs' need for skill and speed up front.

Magnus Svensson-Paajarvi, LW Timra (Sweden)

Big, fast winger likes to drive the net. Played well for Sweden at 2009 world juniors in Ottawa.

John Moore, defence

Chicago (USHL)

Big, mobile blueliner rated in top 15 all season. Might be a reach with the seventh pick.

Zack Kassian, RW

Peterborough (OHL)

Possibly toughest kid in the draft. Loves to fight and is good at it. May be able to develop skill to play on top two lines.


John Tavares, centre

London (OHL)

Dynamite from the blue line in. Some question his skating, but few question his big-game ability.

Victor Hedman, defence

Modo (Sweden)

Played 20 minutes a game in the Swedish elite league. Big and skilled and a great skater.

Matt Duchene, centre

Brampton (OHL)

Seems locked in at No.3 between Tavares and Hedman. A great skater with an edge to his game.

Evander Kane, centre

Vancouver (WHL)

Great wheels. Late addition to Canadian junior team.



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