Zack Kassian seems to be in a pattern of drifting along with the Vancouver Canucks these days when it comes to his development as a young NHL player.
This is not to say he’s been poor; all things considered, he hasn’t been bad at all. But is this all there is? Is this how full his cup can get? Is this all the team plans to do in terms of helping him develop into the player they hoped they could put on the ice when they traded Cody Hodgson? Or is expressing those sentiments showing a lack of patience, the kind of rash thinking that led to the Islanders trading Todd Bertuzzi and this team trading Cam Neely many long years ago?
Consider Thursday night: Kassian played with David Booth and Brad Richardson on the team’s third line. At the end of the night, an overtime game mind you, he had under 11 minutes of ice time under coach John Tortorella, a guy who is supposed to have the reputation of being good at developing young players. On the season he’s averaging 12:20 per night, having played on so many different line combinations it’s a certainty he couldn’t possibly name them all. And against Dallas Sunday he’ll have yet another player to adjust to, Mike Santorelli slotting in to try to get him and Booth going.
Kassian has four goals and an assist over the first quarter of the season, despite missing five games due to his suspension for his high-sticking incident in Edmonton in the preseason, so it’s not like this is turning into a disaster by any stretch. But is this all there is? If this is the road to being Milan Lucic, it could take 50 years to get there.
Given he doesn’t kill penalties and hasn’t been spending much time on the power play, getting him ice time hasn’t been easy for Tortorella, who can’t be in the business of player development when the pressure to win every game is so much greater now than it has been with this team in the recent past. So while he can show Kassian and the rest of his players video on how he thinks they can get better, something the big right winger says the coach has done for him, he can’t be manufacturing ice time specifically to develop a guy. And with the power play rolling along like a stone being moved into place to be fitted into one of the pyramids of Egypt, there is nothing to say Kassian couldn’t push his way onto that second unit for more ice time.
“For me on the third line, I’ll play any role that makes the team successful,” said Kassian. “As a player playing in a market like this, you face a lot of scrutiny and it’s just the market we’re in. You want to get as much respect as possible, but at the same time it’s a learning curve. Obviously I want to learn as fast as possible. I would love to hit a switch that would make me a 30-goal scorer; who wouldn’t? But it’s a process and for me I need to work hard every day, and it starts from the third line.”
If he is going to take a significant leap forward at some point, something is going to have to trigger that event, almost certainly striking up some chemistry with a certain player or players on a line. He’ll get another shot to do that against the Stars, with Santorelli dropping down due to Alex Burrows returning with the twins and leaving Ryan Kesler centering the second unit.