There weren’t a lot of bright spots in the Canucks’ 2013-14 season, but the burgeoning play of Zack Kassian was definitely among them. Despite never really managing to earn John Tortorella’s trust by demonstrating the two-way play that earns one top-six icetime, Kassian still managed to put up 14 goals and 15 assists.
The assists may have been the nicer sign. Watching Kassian for two seasons in Vancouver, it was clear that he had some extraordinary vision — it just wasn’t translating into helpers. But finally, in the back half of the Canucks’ season, as everything else was falling apart, Kassian appeared to be putting it together. By season’s end, he looked like a guy capable of, perhaps, a 20-and-20 season, especially if he finds some chemistry with a centre and gets a spot in the top-six next season.
But enough about next season. Let’s talk about last season, in which Kassian did a lot of good stuff. In his collection of goals, you’ll see power moves, incredible shots, and some deceptive speed for a big man. Here’s every goal Kassian scored in 2013-14.
This play begins and ends with Kassian, as he stops the Penguins at their own blueline, then dangles around a forward and throws the puck back to the boards. From there, he heads to the net, and tips Bieksa’s excellent wrist shot home. Thing to note: Kassian is insane. Watch, for instance, as he scores this go-ahead goal, and expresses his excitement by shouting, “Great shot! Great shot you f***!” at Kevin Bieksa. Zack. Juice is your friend. Be nice.
Speaking of great shots, Kassian has one of those, and he demonstrates it here, burning the Capitals on what looks like a relatively harmless 2-on-2. It’s funny this clip ends the way it does, because Kassian nearly blows this play entirely. Early last season, before he got tired of John Tortorella yelling at him, probably, the big winger had a tendency to bail on the occasional breakout when under pressure, making a low-percentage pass to a teammate — i.e. throwing the puck away. That’s what happens here, as he opts to move the puck to Chris Higgins rather than power it up the wall until he and Higgins can create some space.
But it works out. Higgins can’t corral the pass, so he instead decides to push it forward so the Canucks can gain the zone at least — and suddenly Kassian decides he wants to skate. He burns past the rookie Nate Schmidt, who misses the puck through his skates and turns around too late, then burns the puck past Michal Neuvirth.
This is undoubtedly a tough play for Dave Bolland and Leafs fans to watch, as Bolland suffered a severed tendon in his left leg as the result of a collision with Kassian in the corner to start this play. But that unfortunate incident aside, everything Kassian does in this play is awesome. After throwing the puck at the goal, he goes after it in the corner, hitting Morgan Rielly hard in order to move it along the end boards. Then he heads to the net, suckering Mason Raymond into thinking another collision is coming before spinning off the ex-Canuck, getting into a soft spot in front of the goal, and burying the pass from Brad Richardson.
Kassian and Bieksa connect once again, although this tip is a little less intentional. Kassian’s busy working Brad Stuart over in front when Bieksa’s shot caroms in off his shin pad.
This goal probably shouldn’t have counted, since Brad Richardson practically tries to adopt this puck before finally putting it down, but once he does, he’s got Kassian darting out towards the Columbus end, as unmarked as a surveillance van. There’s a mix-up with the Blue Jackets’ defensive coverage, and by the time anybody closes in Kassian, he’s got a great angle to release his great shot and, while Sergei Bobrovsky gets a piece of it, like Roberto Luongo between overtimes in that infamous 2007 playoff game, he can’t hold it.
Kassian tended to have his best nights against the Oilers, and here’s an example of him doing all the things right versus Edmonton. First, he prevents a zone entry and takes Boyd Gordon off the puck with a heavy hit along the wall, then he turns the play back, dishes off to David Booth, and goes hard to the net. Booth releases, as he often did on these rushes, and Kassian does incredible work to spin into position to tip this puck.
Another Kassian goal scored on the rush, courtesy that great shot. This one happens in an instant, as Kassian takes a pass in stride, then powers a wrister through Brent Seabrook, off the post, and in.
Only 17 seconds after Chris Higgins scored the go-ahead goal, he and Kassian combine for one of the prettiest Canuck goals of the year. This is video-game stuff, with the two wingers sprinting out to the Pittsburgh end and orchestrating a give-and-go so perfect, the Penguins’ defenders may as well not even be there. Higgins’ feed to Kassian is waist high, but Kassian still manages to knock it down and go top-shelf on the backhand in a split-second. Gorgeous.
Kassian gets caught sort of drifting through the neutral zone here, and as a result, narrowly misses a breakout pass. But David Booth is going full-tit, fortunately, and he pokes the puck forward then skates onto it, creating a chance for himself. It doesn’t go, but he manages to draw everyone to him and obliterate goaltender Fredrik Andersen, leaving the door wide open for Kassian to chip the puck like old dinnerware.
Kassian’s only on the ice a few seconds before scoring this one, as he changes for Jannik Hansen midway through the clip. No one marks him as he comes off the bench, and when Kesler comes out of the corner and spots him charging up the gut, he hits the winger with a pass, leaving Kassian tons of time and space to unload that great shot of his and once again leave the Oilers annoyed at his existence.
Kassian loses this puck to Erik Karlsson coming up the end boards, but after Mike Santorelli ties Karlsson up, a turnover sends the puck back onto Kassian’s stick. With Booth running interference in front, there’s room for Kassian to either try to pull the puck to the backhand or snap a quick shot forehand. He chooses the latter option, and slides the puck five-hole on Craig Anderson, for the last nice moment of the Heritage Classic.
Two things that should be evident by now: Kassian is strong, and he has a great shot. He demonstrates both parts of his game on this sudden tally, easily muscling Charlie Coyle off the puck on a won faceoff, then spinning and going over Darcy Kuemper’s shoulder.
Kassian gets a freebie here, as Dan Hamhuis’s point shot is stopped short, but the puck falls right in front of the winger. All he has to do is jab at it, and he does. It helps that he’s wide open courtesy Todd Bertuzzi’s classic move of cross-checking the defender at the exact moment the puck is released from the point. Before Sarich can recover from nearly being flattened, Kassian’s already celebrating the goal.
Finally, fittingly, Kassian’s last goal of the year comes versus the Edmonton Oilers. Granted, they probably don’t mind this one, since they won the game handily as the Canucks limped to the end of the year. Again, it’s Kassian on a rebound, as Ben Scrivens can’t corral a Brad Richardson shot, and it drifts away from him and into the slot. Taylor Hall is the first to it, but he doesn’t move quickly enough, as Hall’s speed to the puck increases by zone. Before he can properly possess it, Kassian’s swiped the puck and hooked it past Scrivens.Tags: Every Goal, Zack Kassian