Zack Kassian is quickly emerging as a two-way player, and has displayed his skills at the NHL, AHL and international levels.
The 2009 draft pick has played 19 games with the Buffalo Sabres this season, accruing three goals and three assists. He’s also suited up for 28 games with the Rochester Amerks, earning 22 points in that time, and also played for Canada in the World Juniors.
One key improvement that Kassian has made in his game is maintaining his physical plan while being more structured and disciplined, an issue that had plagued him during his days in the OHL.
In January 2010, as a member of the Windsor Spitfires organization, Kassian received a 20-game suspension for delivering a hit to the head of an opposing player during a game.
In the 2011 IIHF World Juniors, as a member of Team Canada, he was suspended for two games, also for delivering a hit to the head. Lastly, in April 2011, he received a four-game suspension for an intent to injure match penalty.
Since then, Kassian has added structure and discipline to his game, keeping him out of “trouble,” which is particularly important for a number of reasons.
First of all, anyone who follows the league can tell that the NHL has been actively disciplining players left and right lately, whether it be with with warnings, fines or suspensions. Since Kassian is just in his rookie year, and he’s got a record behind him, you can bet the NHL is keeping a close watch on him, and will be quick to react to any missteps on his behalf.
This year, he’s tallied 29 penalty minutes in 28 games with the Amerks, and 13 penalty minutes in 19 games with the Sabres.
That’s quite a big difference from the two seasons where he achieved his all-time highs in penalty minutes: 136, in the 2006-07 season with the Windsor Jr. Spitfires of the Alliance Hockey League, and also in the 2008-09 season with the Peterborough Petes of the OHL.
Although he’s toned down his game, the important thing to remember is that he’s kept up the physical play he’s been noted for in the past. Kassian’s aggressive play has remained and he’s continued – and will continue – to grow as a player.
It’s only a matter of time before Kassian becomes a full-time NHL player, and it will be interesting to see how his style of plays adapts with the changing rules of the league. Either way, structure and discipline are never a bad idea.