Zack Kassian may not have been a member of the Montreal Canadiens for very long but you can bet the Edmonton Oilers forward had today’s date circled on his calendar. Despite being acquired from the Vancouver Canucks on July 1st in exchange for Brandon Prust and a fifth-round pick in the 2016 Entry Draft, the 25-year old never suited up for a single regular season game before being shipped out-of-town for netminder Ben Scrivens following the NHL’s Christmas break.
"I'm not looking for redemption. I'm happy to be with @EdmontonOilers and I'm more mad at myself for screwing up."Z.Kassian on Mtl return
— Gene Principe (@GenePrincipe) February 5, 2016
While a well-publicized car accident and subsequent trip into the league’s substance abuse program paved the way for his departure from Montreal, the fact he was never afforded a chance at redemption likely left a bit of a sour taste in his month. As much as Kassian would have loved the chance to prove his critics wrong as a member of the Canadiens, he will have to settle for making Peter Chiarelli look like a general manager who made a wise decision in taking a shot on the thirteenth overall pick of the 2009 Entry Draft.
Kassian Hasn’t Looked Out Of Place
If early returns are any indication of what the Oilers can expect from the talented winger, it appears as though the risk of bringing a so-called “potential problem” into the dressing room was one worth taking. While the sample size isn’t very big, Kassian has certainly had an impact on this lineup in his first eight games in Orange and Blue. His willingness to engage physically and accept whatever role given has gone a long way in helping him find where he exactly fits on this roster.
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On a team that was in desperate need for a big-bodied forward who plays with an edge, uses his frame to his advantage and doesn’t look out-of-place playing alongside talented linemates, Kassian has been an absolute godsend for Todd McLellan and his staff. While the former Windsor Spitfires standout has the necessary skill set to be used in a top six role, at least for the moment, it looks as though he has found a home on what has turned out to be a fairly useful third line with Mark Letestu and Nail Yakupov.
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In a sense, it was a perfect situation for Kassian to be placed into and he has used it to his advantage. There was and still is no real pressure for him to produce offence and yet he has managed to score a pair of goals and pick up two assists during his brief stint in the Alberta capital. By allowing him the opportunity to come and quietly find his way, it has clearly benefited the player and allowed him to return from what had to have been a difficult situation with next to no fanfare.
This Could Be A Perfect Fit
In fact, outside of this afternoon’s tilt with the Habs, the guy wearing No. 44 has essentially been nothing more than an afterthought on a roster that includes the likes of Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Should he continue on his current path, there is no question Kassian will be part of the equation moving forward and that was far from a guarantee upon his arrival. Give the guy credit, he has come in and done exactly what this organization has asked of him and been a perfect citizen to boot…something he failed miserably at in Montreal.
The last thing anyone wanted was for Zach Kassian to come in and be a distraction and instead, it has been the complete opposite. While he may have been wondering where his career was headed after four inconsistent seasons in the NHL, this kid could now find himself riding shotgun on what could turn out to be one of the most exciting teams this league has seen in some time. At this stage of the game, it will be up to Kassian to determine where things go from here and the Edmonton Oilers may very well end up being the benefactor of him finally finding his comfort zone…both on and off the ice.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.