Not long ago, the Canucks’ acquisition of a big power forward with a right-handed shot would have resulted in one reaction from fans: finally, someone to play with the twins.
It’s a testament to how well Alex Burrows has done the jump on the Sedins’ right wing — on his off-wing, no less — that Canucks fans didn’t have that reaction when the Canucks traded for Zack Kassian. Instead, Kassian was projected as, at best, a second-line winger on the Canucks, someone to play alongside Ryan Kesler and David Booth. At worst, he could be a physical presence on the fourth line.
But now Kassian has been promoted to play on the top line and the early returns are impressive. Kassian leads the Canucks in goals with 5 in 7 games and is, in fact, tied for second in the NHL in goal-scoring.
The thing is, most of that goal-scoring hasn’t exactly come as a result of playing with the Sedins, but there’s reason to believe that he will have success with them in the future.
Of Kassian’s 5 goals, only 2 of them were assisted by the Sedins. One of those came before Kassian was even on the Sedins line, as he came out and scored directly after the first part of a line change and the other came on the powerplay. He has yet to score a goal assisted by the Sedins at even-strength since joining their line. He is, however, doing everything necessary to score goals while with the Sedins, beyond simply being a big body with scoring touch.
After Anson Carter joined the Sedins and scored 33 goals in 2005-06, Canucks fans decided that he was the prototypical winger to play with the twins. He played a pretty simple game, going hard to the net where the Sedins could essentially bank passes off his stick and in. When Dave Nonis traded for Taylor Pyatt, the thought was that Pyatt could fill the gap left by Carter, but he wasn’t quite perfect: he was a left-handed shot. He still managed 23 goals with the Sedins in 2006-07.
Then Mike Gillis traded for Steve Bernier, who seemed to fit the bill: a 6’2″, 200+ lb former first round pick who scored 151 goals in Junior and was a right-handed shot. Unfortunately, he just didn’t seem to have the touch necessary to play with the Sedins and ended up on the third line.
The Sedins, however, never said they wanted to play with a big power forward. Instead, they always said that they preferred to play with a winger who played a similar style to themselves, like Mattias Weinhandl in Modo in the Swedish Elite League. They like to have a player who can participate in their cycle game, which requires intelligence, on-ice vision, and great touch with the puck.
Surprisingly, the player to best fit that bill has been Alex Burrows, who went from third-line checking forward to scoring star alongside the Sedins.
Kassian, however, is a combination of both types of players. He’s a 6’3″ power forward with a right-handed shot who can go hard to the net and protect the Sedins with the physical side of his game, but he’s also a soft-handed playmaker with superb on-ice vision. What struck me the most from watching Kassian with the Chicago Wolves during the lockout is that, while he’s a good finisher around the net, he’s also a fantastic passer. In fact, Kassian played more like Joe Thornton than Todd Bertuzzi, using his body to protect the puck in order to distribute it to his linemates rather than to power to the net.
Kassian is still learning how to cycle the puck with the Sedins and isn’t quite there yet. He still wants to take the puck himself to make things happen on the ice, which is a good instinct, but he needs to learn to control that instinct and see where there are opportunities to play the puck to the Sedins or simply keep the play alive to develop a better scoring chance.
He even spent part of the off-season working out with the Sedins, as the twins specifically requested that he train with them. It’s clear that the Sedins see his potential and it seems to be working out early in the season.
While he isn’t going to keep scoring at the same pace — he has a shooting percentage of 33%, which is unsustainable — I am loving his potential with the twins. He brings a dimension to the Sedin line with his size that Burrows just can’t match, and he only just turned 22.
Of course, the real benefit to Kassian being a good fit with the Sedins is that the Canucks once again have two different players that can play on the top line. When Mike Gillis traded Mikael Samuelsson to Florida in the Booth deal, they gained a second-line winger, but lost an option to play with the Sedins when they needed Burrows elsewhere, such as the penalty kill or on another line.
If Kassian continues to play well with the Sedins all season long, great. If not, we already know that Burrows is effective on their line. Having both players available gives Vigneault options: he can play the hot hand on the top line, use Burrows on a checking line as he is now, or use Burrows on the top line at even strength and Kassian on the powerplay. (If he needs a tougher linemate to stand up for the Sedins, he’s got Kassian. If he just wants an opponent bitten, Burrows is right there.)
Alternately, the top line can be used as a carrot for Kassian, a reward for when he’s playing well, with the corresponding stick being getting taken off that line.Tags: Alex Burrows, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Steve Bernier, Taylor Pyatt, Zack Kassian