The puck was dropped, and 38 seconds into a game against the San Antonio Rampage on October 27th, Zack Kassian opened the scoring for the Chicago Wolves with his fourth goal of the season. The game ended as a 6-5 win for the Wolves, and was the fourth time in five games that Kassian had scored the first goal of the game for his team. Earlier in October he was riding a four-game point streak and played some of his best hockey against the Abbotsford Heat, getting on the scoreboard and in a fight.
During the few weeks that he played with the Canucks in the spring he was nothing impressive, but during the past few weeks Kassian has spent with the Canucks’ AHL affiliate team, the Chicago Wolves, he has started to show signs that maybe he can be something special after all.
It all started in the summer when the 21 year old was dedicated to improving his fitness. He spent one week training with the Sedins, three weeks with Canucks skill coach Glenn Carnegie in Winnipeg and ten days at the Nike training centre in Oregon.
“I feel quicker,” Kassian told the Vancouver Sun. “Obviously, when you lose some pounds and put on some lean body mass and muscle it’s going to make you quicker. In a sense I feel like I got a step faster.”
He has lost weight, but gained strength, and is playing with more confidence at a level higher than he was playing at before the summer. Kassian is starting to emit the qualities and skills the Canucks acquired him for, using his 6-foot-3 frame to get in the other players’ way while contributing offensively.
“He has a chance to really build into something that is special if he keeps working this hard and keeps playing this hard,” Canucks GM Mike Gillis told the Vancouver Sun.
Kassian leads the team with four goals and seven points in nine games, while also leading his team in penalty minutes with 20. He is getting more out of this lockout than most players – by the time hockey returns, he might be ready to return to the Canucks as an improved and more experienced version of himself; keeping prospects like him on the ice during the lockout is very important for the Canucks’ development.
While the NHL season is nowhere in sight, Kassian is reaping the benefits of playing in the AHL and proving that he belongs with the Canucks organization. Whether or not his future lies on one of the Canucks’ top lines is still to be seen, but for now, his future is a promising one.