February 28, 2012

Kassian Perfect Fit for Canucks

As Vancouver recovers from the shock of the Cody Hodgson trade, it is obvious that this was a truly emotional move made by the Canucks. Angry callers ranted on local radio stations, while many others silently mourned the loss of the youngster they had fallen in love with over the last five months.

Coming back the other way is Zack Kassian, a young power forward who had been playing his rookie season for the Buffalo Sabres. A year younger, he is nowhere near the development of Hodgson.

There is understandably the fear that this will be a repeat of Neely-for-Peterson, the deal that saw the Canucks ship out a future Hall-of-Famer for a guy whose name would be forgotten if not for his part in this very trade.

Comparing Hodgson to Cam Neely is premature to say the least. Even more unfair is calling Kassian another Barry Peterson. It is easy to write off this unfamiliar name as an inferior talent, but this great unknown boasts a ceiling every inch as high as Hodgson’s.

Zack Kassian was drafted 13th overall in the 2009 draft. He is widely considered to be the cream of the prospect crop when it comes to power forwards. Scouts portray him as an extremely complete player, with imposing size and strength and a willingness to throw punches, while possessing uncharacteristically soft hands and exceptional skating ability.

He showed off his abilities largely while playing for the OHL dynasty Windsor Spitfires. After joining them during the 2009/10 season, Kassian was an impactful piece in the second of back-to-back Memorial Cup championships for Windsor.

This is where he begins to separate himself from Cody Hodgson. His tough, gritty game contrasts the finesse of Hodgson. There is no player in the Vancouver Canucks organization like Zack Kassian. And while he may not be ready by then, there is a hope that he will help the Canucks this spring to fill the void that was so exploited by the Boston Bruins a year ago.

The Vancouver fan base has been begging management to toughen up their squad. Instead of a Band-Aid rental player, Gillis went for the Cadillac of gritty young stars. It should be seen as a success, but it seems nobody was prepared for the price the Canucks would have to pay.

Cody Hodgson was the oasis in the desert that is the Canucks’ farm system. He was the next Trevor Linden, the one who would lead Vancouver through the next era of prosperity. He was someone you could build a franchise around.

For such ridiculous dreams, it is amazing how widespread these notions are in the wake of his departure. In their fury they overlook the fact that Kassian is even more capable of meeting such expectations.

Zack Kassian is definitely not a sure thing. There is a substantial chance that he could be a bust. However, it is exactly this heavy risk that works in this favour. Hodgson is a safe bet, he will not disappear, but he does not have the same upside that Kassian does. Kassian’s potential calibre has a significantly wider range, including a higher ceiling.

That ceiling would look a lot like a Milan Lucic, which should have Canuck Nation salivating. People talk about changing the team’s culture; becoming bigger, nastier, a club that nobody would mess with. Zack Kassian is the kind of player who is capable of that kind of impact. If he hits his potential, the Canucks will be able to build a very impressive team around him down the road.

Yes, Gillis did make this move for the present. A big part of this decision was improving Vancouvers chances in 2011. Just do not confuse that with being short-sighted. Kassian may contribute to a post-season run this year, but he has the ability to help the Canucks to many more deep runs at the Stanley Cup after the Luongo-Sedin era is long gone.

A Cody Hodgson team would be a skill team, much like the one of today, bound for regular season success, and not much else. With Zack Kassian as a cornerstone of the franchise, Vancouver could be a team built for the playoffs.