Zack Kassian: Exactly What the Sabres Ordered

Sabres fans were excited for Zack Kassian’s pro career to begin. Drafted 13th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the Sabres liked the forward, then from the OHL’s Peterborough Petes, for his toughness and potential to be a scoring power forward. For a while, 13th overall seemed a little high for Kassian. He was a reckless forward, shown by a 20-game suspension following Kassian’s elbow thrown on Barrie Colts’ forward Matt Kennedy. Shortly after he came back from suspension, Kassian was traded to the Windsor Spitfires, where he won the CHL’s Memorial Cup.

From there, Kassian started gaining more control over his game. Last season, Kassian looked like a man among boys in Windsor, and he wasn’t afraid to show it. While not only being much bigger than most of the players in the OHL, Kassian also had a prolific offensive year, scoring 26 goals and 77 points in 56 games. His point total ranked him in the top 30 of the OHL. His 51 assists ranked 13th.

Kassian was also on Team Canada’s roster for the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championships held in Buffalo. He was expected to show that he could hold his own with many players from his draft class, such as Carter Ashton and Ryan Ellis. In five games, Kassian scored two goals and three points. Unfortunately, Kassian’s recklessness returned to him, as he was suspended for two games for a hit to the head on the Czech team’s defensman Petr Senkerik. Kassian was once again suspended this past April in the OHL playoffs for a hit considered “intent to injure” on Owen Sound Attack defenseman Jesse Blacker.

After the Spitfires were knocked out of the playoffs, Kassian reported to the Portland Pirates to kick off his pro career. Getting mostly 3rd- and 4th-line time, Kassian was held scoreless through three playoff games, but only had two penalty minutes. It seemed that if anything, Kassian was controlling himself so as not to get suspended again.

Kassian had a lot to prove coming into his first pro season. Being one of the Sabres’ final cuts of training camp, Kassian began his first full season of his pro career in Rochester. Expected to bring a physical presence, Kassian disappointed. However, where he lacked in his expected physical play, he made up for that by finding his scoring touch. In 18 games, Kassian racked up 14 points, leading the Amerks in points until he was called up by the Sabres. While thought of as a physical player, Kassian played more like a scorer in Rochester. WGR’s Matthew Coller, the stations’s Rochester Americans beat writer, wrote that Sabres fans shouldn’t expect much physicality from the forward.

Through three games, Kassian’s been plenty physical, registering 6 hits and a fighting major. Kassian is most noticeable along the boards, where he uses his size and strength to win puck battles with the opposing team’s players. It was a shifty move along the boards at the blue line that led to Kassian’s first NHL point, assisting on Jordan Leopold’s goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets on November 26th. The next night, Kassian netted his first NHL goal, getting a pass from Andrej Sekera at the boards on the blue line. Kassian continued up the boards and fired a shot that just found it’s way between the five-hole of Thomas Vokoun.

Kassian’s first NHL fight was a doozy. His scrap with the Islander’s Matt Martin came off of a play in which Nathan Gerbe was interfered with, sparking some extra-curricular activity along the boards until Kassian met Martin for a center-ice dance. Kassian fired punches left and right, top and bottom. Martin’s helmet remained on for most of the fight, limiting some of the blows Kassian could get in on him. It wasn’t long before Martin lifted Kassian’s jersey and shoulder pads, which is when Kassian really let the punches fly. It became so intense that Martin eventually waved the white flag, giving Kassian a win on his first fight.

Here’s the fight:

If Kassian can continue to play this physical for his remaining stint in Buffalo, not to mention for the rest of his time in Rochester, Kassian could have himself a long, bright future in Buffalo as the tough power-forward the Sabres have been waiting for since what seems like forever. Really. When is the last time Buffalo had a really good power-forward?

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