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Canucks' winger Kassian is a lockout 'winner'

Photo form Flickr/Loxy!!

As far as the Vancouver Canucks forward ranks go, Zack Kassian is clearly the principle up-and-comer—a young and plastering power forward with surprising quickness and gifted hands. At just 21 years old, his time to grow and develop into being an everyday impact NHL player is exactly now.

He’s fertile ground, and he needs to blossom.

So the longer he stays out of the NHL, the better.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but as far as his NHL career goes, Zack Kassian is right where he needs to be: one step below it in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves. 

It’s not unlike the last lockout really, eight years ago, when Ryan Kesler was a third and fourth line bundle of chaos who seemed destined for lesser things at the NHL level. A permanent paycheck, yes, but stardom? Hardly. No one saw that coming.

When he entered the league in 2003 Kesler was fast, aggressive, and sloppy. He had tunnel vision and handled the puck like he was digging a ditch. He had tools in all the wrong places and all in the wrong order.

His hands weren’t connected to his brain and his legs weren’t connected to his hands. His shot rarely connected with the back of the net. He was a stumbling lack of confidence every time he stepped onto the ice.

Then the 2004-05 lockout happened, and development took its course.

Then 21, Kesler was sent to marinate with the Canucks’ affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, along with a number of other young Canucks, such as Alex Burrows and Kevin Bieksa. It’s lore now, but it’s worth reiterating anyways, because it has currency: The 2004-05 lockout was a boon for the Canucks, hyper-driving the development of a second wave of young players who would grow to become future franchise cornerstones, eventually taking the reigns from a slowly decline regime.

Kesler emerged from that lockout season in the AHL fully formed, and there’s an argument to be made that Zack Kassian is in a similar situation now with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. He might even be Canucks’ biggest lockout winner, so to speak, if for no other reason than that it’s rescued him from a season on Alain Vigneault’s bench and in Alain Vigneault’s press box at the height of his development, eating chips and playing eight to ten minutes a night, three out of every five games.

As the big-ticket return in the once heavily panned and maligned Cody Hodgson trade, there was virtually no way Kassian was starting the season in the AHL had the NHL not fumbled its way into another logic defying lockout. And given the way Alain Vigneault punishes youthful growing pains with adult benchings, it’s likely that Kassian would have enjoyed a tepid 18 to 25 point season in Vancouver.

Instead, the owners and NHLPA can’t figure out how to share 3.3 billion dollars and so Kassian’s playing big minutes and getting power play time with Chicago in the AHL. And so far he has 3 goals in five games to show for it. A small sample size, to be sure, but he’s playing with size and confidence, and learning the challenge of consistency.

It’s a combination hard learned at the NHL level, and even harder learned on a deep Cup contending team like the Vancouver Canucks.

Luckily for Zack Kassian, the league and the players association are doing everything in their power to ensure he stays exactly where he is for a long time. That’s both good and bad news for Canucks fans. 

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