Kassian rises to power, Canucks clutch first win
If Zack Kassian is still a 'young player learning the game' imagine how good he'll look in another few months or a year. If the 22-year old hadn't been on the ice last night against the Calgary Flames it's hard to imagine the Canucks crawl their way into overtime and the shootout, let alone emerge with the All Kassian Victory they did.
His gorgeous three-effort second period goal, four recorded hits, and his jaw-dropping shootout winner were just the highlights. And they were impressive, but they don’t really tell the whole story.
Kassian was the best player on a line featuring two Art Ross Trophy winners, and it was the second game in a row where you could safely say that without being accused of embellishment.
This from a guy with 47 NHL games under his belt.
Confidence is the word you're looking for, and "The Kassassin" is dripping with it. It's helping him carry a line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Not that the twins have played poorly — far from it — but Kassian has clearly provided an extra gear.
“I think Danny and Hank obviously are trying to find their rhythm right now,” said head coach Alain Vigneault after the game. “They hadn't played since a week ago while Zack has been playing since September. I believe without a doubt Danny and Hank have a lot more to give and they will."
Back in November we wrote that Kassian could end up being a "lockout winner," and the coach seems to agree.
"Obviously he's a young player that got an opportunity to play in the American league and get a lot of quality minutes. We all knew he had a lot of upside and he's working on developing that upside."
Where that development curve lands is anyone's guess, but the early indications are promising. The sample size may be small, but the way he's playing doesn't exactly scream "luck" or "flash-in-the-pan" either.
Three games into the season and he's making plays with his head up and with patience, using his body to protect the puck and buy himself more time to make the right decision and for his linemates to get into position.
Some players are better big leaguers than minor leaguers. Give them the proper line mates and they blossom. Early on and Zack Kassian is finding success as a puck distributor with great vision and soft hands. Vigneault gave him the Sedin’s and tools are starting to click.
Aside from the Zack Attack Show the game against the Flames featured a few other wrinkles of some consequence.
Alex Burrows was moved to center and Manny Malhotra was moved to the wing. Burrows was flanked by Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen on a new-look second line, while Malhotra played on a new-look fourth with Max Lapierre and Aaron Volpatti.
Jordan Schroeder played his first NHL game after being called up from the Chicago Wolves and centered Mason Raymond and Dale Weise on the third.
The move to put Burrows at center raised a lot of eyebrows in the lead up to the game, but Alain Vigneault has a history making unconventional roster decisions when the going gets tough. And say what you will about the coach, but these moves often have a way of working as motivational tools, at least for the short term. The most memorable 'strange decision' by Vigneault was, of course, putting Burrows on the wing with the Twin's.
Burrows held his own in the faceoff circle (winning 5 of 8) and overall the move gives the Canucks a viable second-line for the first time this season. As a temporary fix until Ryan Kesler returns, this line looks to have legs, which means the top-6 is now set for the foreseeable future.
Jordan Schroeder failed to really stand out but that’s probably a good thing for a third line center playing his first NHL game. The coach liked what he saw, and so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the kid stick for a bit and continue in a third line role.
Malhotra and Lapierre split faceoff duty on the fourth line, with Malhotra winning a whopping 9 out of 10 draws and Lapierre winning only 3 of 7.
It will be interesting to see how Schroeder progresses and how Vigneault uses Mahotra and Lapierre going forward over the next few weeks. As Ryan Kesler and David Booth return to the lineup decisions will need to be made. The team has only a few bangers and crashers like Dale Weise and Aaron Volpatti, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Malhotra and Schroeder end up as the odd men out.