Ex-Canuck Zack Kassian ‘blessed’ to be with Oilers, on his last chance to stick in NHL

 

 
 
 
 
'It's a blessing, honestly, to get to play with this group. I think I fit in really well,' says Edmonton Oilers winger Zack Kassian. 'If I can keep my head on straight and stuff, I think we have something special moving forward.'
 

'It's a blessing, honestly, to get to play with this group. I think I fit in really well,' says Edmonton Oilers winger Zack Kassian. 'If I can keep my head on straight and stuff, I think we have something special moving forward.'

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EDMONTON — This is not the second chance for Zack Kassian, it’s his final chance in the National Hockey League.

His October car accident in Montreal after a night of partying got his attention the way last July’s trade from the Vancouver Canucks did not.

It also got him dumped by the Canadiens after Kassian, who suffered a broken foot as a passenger in the pickup that slammed into a tree four days before Montreal’s season-opener, spent two months in Stage 2 of the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioural Health Program.

His almost inexplicable popularity with fans during 3½ seasons in the Vancouver Canucks’ organization never computed for three different coaches who probably knew much more about Kassian than most of us.

Now here he is with the Edmonton Oilers, three months since his second trade in six months, a recovering alcoholic who is also trying to recover an NHL career that began with promise and a first-round draft selection by the Buffalo Sabres in 2009.

“There’s no regrets (about Vancouver), but there’s part of me that wishes I could have figured it out before what happened,” Kassian, 25, said Friday before he played against the Canucks for the first time since Vancouver jettisoned him last July. “Now it’s a blessing ... for where I am now. You look around the room at all the skill in here, the new rink (being built). The future’s so bright here. I’m excited to get the opportunity.

“Everything happens for a reason. I came here with a completely different mindset now. I’m happy. It’s a blessing, honestly, to get to play with this group. I think I fit in really well. If I can keep my head on straight and stuff, I think we have something special moving forward.”

It’s in a sentence like that last one that “if” deserves more heft than two letters.

“We have to take some risk as an organization with players,” Oiler coach Todd McLellan said. “Whether they’ve failed in the past with other organizations ... we have to take risks.

“We did some homework on Zack’s personal life. All of us in Vancouver and Edmonton should be proud of what he’s done since he entered the program. Prior to that, probably not. He’s done a real good job of maintaining that and living a real good healthy life. That’s real important. It’s definitely worth the risk.”

Unlike in Vancouver, where Kassian had media advocates, there is no debate about his role or place on the team here. He is a bottom-six forward who has to provide energy and play physically each night.

In 27 games for the Oilers, he has mostly done that, collecting seven points and 84 penalty minutes. Edmonton was 11-13-3 with Kassian, who was averaging 12:40 of ice time.

“There’s times where he’s very active around the puck in keeping plays alive, and then there are others where you look for a little more from him,” McLellan said. “I don’t see him as a big scorer. I don’t see him as a 30-goal scorer and doing that kind of stuff. I see him grinding it out in the corners and fulfilling that role in a bottom-six position more than a top six.”

Kassian looks leaner and fitter than when he played in Vancouver. He said he is 210 pounds, 10-15 lighter than he was as a Canuck. He seems highly motivated, especially to play Vancouver.

He paused to carefully chose his words a couple of times before answering questions about the Canucks and his feelings toward them. He had dinner with Canuck defenceman Chris Tanev on Thursday and has several friends on the team and many others in B.C.

“The fans were great,” Kassian said. “That part’s always tough. I spent more time there than in my hometown. It’s a great city — one of my favourite cities still.”

But he is devoting himself to beating the Canucks as often as possible for the rest of his career.

“Hopefully I can play with this team for a while and get a lot of games against the Canucks,” he said. Later, he added: “I would have loved to still be there. But things happen and now it’s up to me.”

He was mature enough to recognize that, to at least some degree, he blew it Vancouver.

“I think Montreal was the big wakeup call that changed my life,” he said. “I’d like to think Vancouver was the big wakeup call, but if that happened I’d probably still be in Montreal.”

imacintyre@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/imacvansun

 
 
 
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'It's a blessing, honestly, to get to play with this group. I think I fit in really well,' says Edmonton Oilers winger Zack Kassian. 'If I can keep my head on straight and stuff, I think we have something special moving forward.'
 

'It's a blessing, honestly, to get to play with this group. I think I fit in really well,' says Edmonton Oilers winger Zack Kassian. 'If I can keep my head on straight and stuff, I think we have something special moving forward.'

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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