BUFFALO – Zack Kassian picked a fight with the wrong guy.
Kassian confessed Wednesday he was guilty of mistaken identity when he fought Flyers’ defenceman Luke Schenn in the first period of Tuesday night’s 3-2 Vancouver Canucks’ win in Philadelphia.
A smiling Kassian said he was certain it was Schenn who seconds earlier had slammed defenceman Yannick Weber into the side boards. He didn’t learn until after the scrap that it was actually Zac Rinaldo.
It should have been a Zac vs. Zack tilt.
“Should have gone after Rinaldo,” Kassian said. “Would have been an easier fight for me, I think.”
Kassian did just fine in his fight with Schenn and who knows, he might drop the gloves again Thursday night when he returns to play in his former hockey home.
Kassian isn’t expecting any Welcome Back Zack tributes from the Buffalo Sabres when the Canucks meet them in Game 2 of their seven-game road trip. Heck, the Sabres didn’t even pay tribute to their former captain Jason Pominville when he visited the other night with the Minnesota Wild.
Kassian wasn’t in Buffalo quite as long as Pominville. He spent a grand total of 27 games with the Sabres before Buffalo sent him to the Canucks in exchange for centre Cody Hodgson in February of 2012.
Kassian does not have a case of the warm and fuzzies about his time in Buffalo, but also insists he harbours no ill will toward the Sabres and general manager Darcy Regier. He knows his job is now to impress the Canucks, not the Sabres.
“It’s a part of the business. people get traded,” Kassian said after the Canucks’ noon-hour practice in Philadelphia. “There are very few players in this league who play for one team their whole career. It just happened to me early in my career.
“They gave me a chance to play in the NHL. They drafted me, they made my dream come true and really, that’s it.”
Kassian was selected 13th overall by the Sabres in the 2009 draft. They fell in love with his size and skill set, but the romance ended early.
The Kassian-Hodgson trade appeared to shock everyone. Kassian didn’t see it coming and Hodgson insisted he didn’t either.
Kassian said the only thing that has him excited about Thursday night’s game is the fact a large number of his family members will make the trip from his Windsor home to watch him play.
“It’s going to be pretty cool to have them all there,” he said. “It’s tough to get all my family out to Vancouver, with their work schedules and what-not, so it is going to great to have them all there. I don’t know how many are coming. I am still getting texts right now. Probably 20 or so.”
Kassian, still only 22, has not yet developed into the player the Canucks advertised when they made a deal that to this day remains controversial. He has shown flashes of being the skilled power forward Canuck management think he can be, but has yet to deliver it on a consistent basis.
It didn’t help that he was nailed with a suspension for his careless hit that shattered the jaw of Oiler centre Sam Gagner in a pre-season game and missed eight games, including the first five of the regular season.
Tuesday night’s game was just his second of the season and he played on the third line with David Booth and Jordan Schroeder.
Kassian knows his bottom line must improve. He scored some points with his coach for his fight Tuesday, but the team is also expecting him to contribute offensively.
“You obviously need to do things out there to get recognized,” Kassian said. “For me I think I am kind of lucky in a sense that if I am not scoring goals I have other attributes in my game that I can bring. Obviously, you want to put up numbers but at the same time you need to look where you are playing and what-not and my goal right now is to create energy, move my feet, get in on the forecheck. When I am doing that and being hard to play against, the goals will come eventually.”
Those words seem to come right out of the John Tortorella handbook. The Canucks new coach said Wednesday it is much too early to pass judgment on Kassian. But he, too, has high expectations.
“It aggravated me with the suspension because I thought he had a really good camp and that threw a little bit of a wrench into it,” Tortorella said. “So we’ll try and get him some minutes. I like what he did in the game (on Tuesday night), trying to be aggressive, fights a guy. I think that has to be a big part of his game, that physicality and that type of attitude. But it’s unfair to really comment or judge him either way, good or bad, because he hasn’t played enough.”
It may also be unfair to compare Kassian and Hodgson statistically. They are different players and Hodgson clearly is more gifted offensively. In 76 games with the Sabres since the trade, Hodgson has 18 goals and 47 points. In 58 games with the Canucks, Kassian has eight goals, 14 points and 87 penalty minutes.
“We are two different players,” Kassian said. “I wish him the best and I need to worry about my business in Vancouver.”
Kassian clearly thinks he can thrive in Vancouver under Tortorella. While the two haven’t really had a one-on-one conversation, other than a how-do-you-do phone call during the summer, Kassian likes the energy Tortorella brings to the team.
“You can tell he has a passion for coaching and that’s good,” he said. “As players you want to return the favour and do the same thing for him when you are out there playing for him.”
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