Oilers Hand Zack Kassian A Lifeline

Living up to expectations can be a fairly daunting task for professional athletes and one that many have trouble ever coming close to achieving. Zack Kassian is an individual who has struggled mightily in fulfilling the promise that came with being a highly touted prospect but the Edmonton Oilers are hoping the 13th pick of the 2009 Entry Draft has the internal drive and strength to overcome both his on and off-ice troubles.

After being placed on waivers by the Montreal Canadiens and going unclaimed throughout the league, it appeared as though the Windsor native could have run out of chances of salvaging what at one time seemed to be a rather promising career. Luckily for Kassian, the Oilers’ need for a player with his exact skill-set combined with the organization’s willingness to give players a chance at redemption, has led to the former Buffalo Sabre being handed what could very well prove to be his final shot at securing a regular spot on an NHL roster.

While general manager Marc Bergevin had no interest in adding the soon-to-be 25-year old to his dressing room in Montreal, the same could not be said of Peter Chiarelli. With that being the case, Monday’s announcement that the two sides had agreed to a trade in which Kassian and netminder Ben Scrivens would swap addresses, in hopes of getting a new lease on life, was hardly a surprising one.

Moving Scrivens Was the Right Thing to Do

From the Habs standpoint, it truly was a no-brainer. Moving a potential distraction that was never going to see the light of day in Montreal for a player who could possibly help bridge the gap until Carey Price returns to health was an obvious one. By no means is that to suggest Scrivens is the answer to the Canadiens problem but the opportunity does exist. That was never going to be the case with Kassian.

As far as Edmonton is concerned, anyone who has watched this team over the course of the last three years knows all-to-well that, barring injury, Scrivens had played his final game in Oilers silks. With that said, moving what was essentially a worthless asset in exchange for a guy with loads of upside, albeit with baggage attached, was likely something that did not even phase Chiarelli. Let’s not forget this is the same GM who seriously contemplated bringing Kassian on board to play with the Boston Bruins.

It is no secret that both Chiarelli and Todd McLellan feel as though Edmonton’s current roster is far too easy to play against and they are bang on in their evaluation. With the likes of Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov already in place and wingers Benoit Pouliot and Teddy Purcell the only other realistic top-nine options up front, the need for a player with Kassian’s skill-set is rather apparent.

Again, he has yet to deliver on his Draft Day promise, however he has shown flashes of being a guy who could chip in on the scoresheet while making the opposition’s life a living hell. Problem being, that happened with almost no regularity in his three previous stops and outside of a nice little run with the Sedins during his time with the Vancouver Canucks, the former Windsor Spitfire has been a complete non-factor in far too many of his 198 NHL appearances.

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Yet the combination of his skill, size and willingness to engage physically is something this organization could not pass up on. Add to that the fact that every team in the league knows Kassian will do whatever necessary to give his team an edge and one can’t help but like the move that much more. The last Oilers forward who was a true “pain-in-the-ass” to play against was Raffi Torres and he left town following the 2008-09 season. While not everyone may agree, in my mind, to suggest adding such a player was long overdue would be stating the obvious.

Oilers Players and Fans Will Need To Move On

There are still players inside that dressing room and across this fan base who hold a grudge against Kassian for breaking Sam Gagner’s jaw back in September of 2013 but that will all become part of the past should he eventually find his way to Edmonton after spending some time in the AHL with the Bakersfield Condors. Make no mistake, this is far from a slam dunk but it was a “risk-free” move that was worth taking and one that the player probably truly appreciates.

If it pans out, the Oilers may have just stolen a potential top-six winger that could perfectly compliment their young core for the foreseeable future. If it happens to not work out, Kassian would be cut loose at season’s end and hope he can land on his feet in another NHL city in 2016-17. From the player’s perspective, something tells me he would much rather the former and focus on repairing both the personal and professional sides of his life.

Should Zack Kassian still have any intention of continuing his NHL career beyond the current 2015-16 campaign, squandering the opportunity the Edmonton Oilers have handed him would be about as dumb a move as any individual can make.  With that said, at this stage of the game, the professional side of the equation is secondary. If nothing else, let’s us hope the young man can get his life back on track because that is what really matters. Whereas turning into the sort of player many envisioned him becoming out of junior would be an added bonus but not priority one.