Zack Kassian isn’t fully benefiting from playing with the Sedins yet

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.

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24 comments

  1. madwag
    January 31, 2013

    Watching the first line during last night’s game, I saw Kassian making moves similar to those of the twins, which is to say going where they would go and passing where they would pass to make the cycle game work. I wasn’t surprised when the commentators pointed out he had been practicing with them during the lockout. The first line is looking good as were all four lines in last night’s affair. I’m anxious to see how they do against Chicago, a team decidedly better than Colorado.

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    • zach
      January 31, 2013

      I noticed that as well, I actually saw a few instances where he kept the play alive as a result of a good cycle after one of the Sedins coughed up the puck. Good to see how well he is playing this year, he has made leaps and bounds since he joined the team last year. Excited to see him grow as a player.

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      • Dougster
        January 31, 2013

        Absolutely, and in fact Daniel could take a lesson from Little Brother Zack about protecting the puck and digging for it in the corners. I saw a couple loss of possession plays featuring Daniel last night, and lots of great work by K’assasin. I really am surprised by his progress since last season. Give them another 10-12 games together and we will really see them build something special for the rest of the season…

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  2. Dave
    January 31, 2013

    Kassian is improving as a Sedinery apprentice. But where does Burrows go when Kesler comes back? They didn’t click much on the 2nd line and Burrows plays better when he gets 1st-line icetime.

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    • Raftgeek
      January 31, 2013

      Burrows and Kesler not clicking? Maybe I missed that but I think that’s how Burrows really cemented his spot on the team. Maybe last yeaar there were a few gamesthey played together that didn’t work great, can’t say I remember that but I’m sure they could still be great together.

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    • Wetcoaster
      January 31, 2013

      Don’t they already play together on the PK?

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  3. Shreds
    January 31, 2013

    From that article link in the post:

    “The Sedins asked him to train with them in June, and Kassian travelled back to Vancouver from his off-season home in Windsor, Ont., to see how two of the best players in the world do it.

    “That came out of our wrap-up dinner last year,” Gillis explained. “I was talking to Henrik and he was telling me about what he thought of Zack’s potential. Then Danny joined us. . . and they asked if it would be OK for them to invite Zack to train with them. It was better than OK; it was great. They both see tremendous potential in Zack and they want to do everything they can to help him. It’s true leadership, unselfish and generous.””

    These guys, man. Can they be any more awesome?

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    • J21 (@Jyrki21)
      January 31, 2013

      It’s kind of funny… the last, big, hulking, soft-handed winger on the Canucks had an “odd couple” best friendship with a soft-spoken Swede from Örnsköldsvik. The next one might have two…

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  4. Kelvin Yu
    January 31, 2013

    This isnt even his final form!

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    • Daniel Wagner
      January 31, 2013

      Hahahaha, oh man. This makes me really want to get Chloe Ezra to illustrate the Canucks as Pokemon.

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      • Nee
        January 31, 2013

        Please do. (If yuo can avoid copyright infringement)

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  5. Colby
    January 31, 2013

    Hes also a really good fighter.. Watching Weise fight last night, couldnt help but think how much better of a fighter Kassian is. Weise seems like a checking forward who fights because he has too, he usually just hangs on and tries not to get pummelled too bad.

    Maybe Weise should do some MMA with Kassian, seems to be paying off.

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  6. GayCanuck
    January 31, 2013

    Kassian is turning out to be an impressive player so far, and his work with the Sedins during the off-season has clearly paid off. After last year’s devastating hit on Daniel by Duncan Keith, Zack can also work as a good deterrent to anyone considering going after our wizards on ice.

    So while I lamented the trade of Cody Hodgson, I’m beginning to see how Kassian is really working well with the team, and was surprised to see him being paired with the Sedins this season. But, wow, look at the results so far! I know it’s still early, but, I’ve almost forgotten about Cody. Almost.

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    • TamaraB
      January 31, 2013

      thank you for finally coming around! LOL I promise not to harass you on twitter with “#CoHoWho” hashtags any more lol :)

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  7. Brent
    January 31, 2013

    Where do you guys find all the pictures for your blog? They are awesome. This one of Hendrik (Daniel?) reminds me of the “intense” guy in water ballon toss. The most recent one of Luongo versus Cox is a classic!

    You guys realize I have actual work I should be doing, right? So stop it, just stop making these blogs so interesting.

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  8. J21 (@Jyrki21)
    January 31, 2013

    Then Nonis traded for Steve Bernier

    That was already Gillis, FWIW.

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  9. Colby
    January 31, 2013

    Impressed now? I heard next year the Sedin’s are turning the gravity up to 100X in their secret Swedish Hyperbolic Time Chamber.

    If this knowledge of Kassian training with the Sedins was common knowledge, cant help but think he would of been picked up in ALOT more fantasy pools!

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  10. Travis
    January 31, 2013

    Another solid piece from PITB!!!!

    Go Wags!

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  11. dougster
    January 31, 2013

    About Alex Burrows, and where he will play when Kes comes back etc…. the answer is “anywhere he is needed”. The guy is like Zoro, he just shows up and is who we need him to be at just the right moment. Need a game winning goal in the playoffs? Check. Need someone to work with the Sedins? Check. Need to check the other team’s best scoring line? Check. Need someone to kill off a 5 on 3 with the game on the line? Check. As much as I like the way LBZ is developing I won’t be trading in my #14 Burrows sweater any time soon.

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    • Raftgeek
      January 31, 2013

      ditto

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  12. John Andress
    January 31, 2013

    It is a mystery to me why people continue to say “Finally! Someone to play with the twins.” Alex Burrows has been playing with the Sedins extremely productively for the past few years and he himself had several predecessors, notably Trent Klatt and Anson Carter, both of whom enjoyed considerable success on a line with Henrik and Daniel. It is also amusing to note that another old saw continually trotted out about the twins is that they are so good and so talented that all one has to do is keep their stick on the ice, find the right spot and wait for the puck to miraculously appear on their tape. Zack Kassian could, quite conceivably, be the best of the lot. That remains to be seen. Until we do see however, Kassian may be the best but he is also only the most recent to be in a position to cash in on the Sedin’s wizardry. If he has the ability to enhance their game by making space for them and, perhaps, providing a bit of size and muscle to keep players from taking liberties as well as netting the opportunities that will inevitably come his way it will be a wonder to behold. Vancouver fans are notoriously quick to declare players busts or heroes on extremely small sample sizes but let’s give the players time to work it out and see where it takes us.

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    • nanodummy
      February 1, 2013

      “Finally! Someone to play with the twins.”

      Daniel specifically said that nobody said that regarding Kassian because Burrows has been outstanding.

      “but he is also only the most recent to be in a position to cash in on the Sedin’s wizardry. ”

      The article specifically refutes this notion. Did you read it?

      I think Kassian is riding an insane lucky streak, what with him being on a 35 goal pace for this season, which pro-rates to almost a 60 goal regular season. I love Kassian, but Stamkos and Ovechkin he is not. If he finishes the season with 15 goals, that would make me very very happy. If he shoots 10%, he’s on pace for 10 goals though. I’d like to see him get more shots on net. Then the Sedinery will work it’s magic.

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  13. Jason
    February 1, 2013

    “If he just wants an opponent bitten, Burrows is right there.”….slow clap

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  14. TeeJay
    February 4, 2013

    Zach Kassian is MIchael Buble’s Proxy on the Team.

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