When the Edmonton Oilers acquired Zack Kassian during the 2015-16 season, it was apparent to everybody that it was the player’s last chance in the NHL. Off-ice issues led to him wearing out his welcome in numerous organizations. He promised at the time of the deal that he was going to get his act together, and to his credit, he has.
Through his first four and a half seasons with the Oilers, he was a physical, always engaging presence who was able to fly around the ice and provide secondary offence. On top of that, he was always there to stand up for teammates and had opposing players think twice before taking liberties on players like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. That version Kassian has been missing for far too long.
Over the past two seasons, Kassian has far too often been a non-factor in games. There are some contests where many wouldn’t realize he suited up if it wasn’t for the box score. His entire game has become very inconsistent, something head coach Jay Woodcroft has clearly noticed as well. The Oilers’ new bench boss made a statement by healthy scratching the 31-year-old versus the Arizona Coyotes on Monday and is making an even bigger one now, as it has been announced that Kassian will sit for a second straight game tonight against the Los Angeles Kings.
Kassian’s Entire Game Has Fallen Off
For Kassian, it isn’t just one part of his game that has declined as of late. His offensive skills have certainly taken a hit, proven by the fact that he has just seven goals in his past 71 games, but it is so much more than that.
With the suddenly deep forward group the Oilers possess, they no longer need Kassian to be an offensive producer. Long gone are the days that the coaching staff would attempt to use him alongside McDavid to find an offensive spark. Instead, what they need is for him to instill fear into his opponents by running around the ice and hitting everything in sight. He is certainly capable of doing so, but he hasn’t nearly enough to warrant a spot in this lineup.
When at his best, Kassian is truly a player who can change the impact of games. It’s why general manager Ken Holland chose to give him a four-year, $12.8 million extension back in January of 2020. Perhaps the perfect example of just how effective he can be as a player came back in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. While his stat line of three goals in 13 games during that run doesn’t jump off the page, Oilers fans know just how valuable he was during that run. Not only did his goals come at big moments, but he was an absolute wrecking ball every time he hopped on the ice.
These clips above are prime examples of what Kassian can do when he is at his best. He shows glimpses of this at times but far too often seems disengaged. The Oilers could desperately use this version of him for the stretch of the regular season as well as the playoffs.
Woodcroft Not Tolerating Inconsistent Play
For a first-time NHL head coach to come in and healthy scratch a popular player in the room like Kassian not once but twice really says something about him. Woodcroft has preached team play since the moment he got the job in Edmonton and has put those words to action by giving all of his players – particularly ones in the bottom-six who were limited under the previous coaching regime – chances to contribute.
By making this decision on Kassian, it’s clear that he is not playing favorites and isn’t interested in what anyone has done in the past. Instead, he is going to ice the lineup that gives his team the best chance to win on a nightly basis. Doing this is sending a message to not only Kassian but every player on this Oilers roster that inconsistent and disengagement will not be tolerated. The hope will be that this message works out and gets Kassian to turn back the clock and once again become the player that for a time was a fan favorite in Oil Country.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.