Oilers Player Report Card - #44 Zack Kassian
On December 28th the Oilers traded Ben Scrivens for Zack Kassian. Scrivens numbers had plummeted to the point where he was struggling in the AHL and clearly had no future with the Oilers. Meanwhile, Zack Kassian had never played a game for the Montreal Canadiens and had gone through the League's Substance Abuse Program. If anyone had said at the time that Kassian would not only play past that season with the Oilers, but eventually be signed up to the 2023/2024 season with the organization they would have been called a nut.
Again, we are going to ignore any discussions about a player's contract. Whatever anyone may think about his 4 year 3.2 million per season deal has no place in these discussions. We are focusing on Kassian the player and what he did in the lineup.
Kassian became this season's iteration of Patrick Maroon. A top nine forward who plays physical and can be the guy to tap in goals fed to him by Connor McDavid. Zack Kassian played with no forward more this season at 5 on 5 than with the captain himself, playing a total of 663 minutes together.
Specifically through the first half of the season, the Oilers iced a top line of McDavid, Draisaitl, and Kassian. The biggest question that needs answering when discussing McDavid's linemates is, "do they hurt his production," and at first glance that does not appear to be the case for Kassian.
McDavid posted a 46.06CF% without Kassian and the duo together posted a 49.09%. In a similar vein, McDavid and Kassian out-chanced the opposition to the tune of 50.54% while McDavid posted a 47.95% without Kassian. No one would suggest Kassian should be in the same conversation as McDavid, but the two players clearly played well together.
It gets more remarkable when you include Leon Draisaitl into the mix. The trio together played 442 minutes. Kassian and McDavid played 220 minutes together without Leon Draisaitl.
McDavid and Kassian actually posted higher numbers in terms of possession (51.47CF% vs 47.94%), scoring chances for (53.23% vs 49.33%) and GF% (58.33% vs 52.83%) when together and away from Leon. This isn't a knock on Draisaitl at all as this whole trio struggled mightily in December, but it's important to note that Kassian was more than just a passenger on the top line.
At 29 years old, has Kassian developed into a top line player? The answer is still no. Kassian does not generate enough on his own to be considered a true top six player and while he would have cracked his previous career high of 15 goals this season, his 15.2% shooting is also on the high side. It's very likely this was the best season we will see from #44.
Kassian is a player with versatility that can be slotted anywhere in a team's top nine. He produces almost exclusively at even strength (receives almost no PP time) and can usually outmatch similar lines. In a very small sample size, the Sheahan, Archibald, and Kassian line actually performed as a third line should.
Of course the best and worst thing about Kassian is the edge he plays with. At his best he is a pest who can make big hits and use his speed and skill to cause havoc in the oppositions end. At his worst he is taking dumb penalties or suspensions (see kick). For the most part during his career in Edmonton, he has learned how to reign those parts of his game, especially playing alongside skill players.
Even if Kassian is relegated to more of a third line role next season, he still can be a useful role player who can jump into the top six on a dime if needed. He is a versatile player and has strangely become a staple of the Edmonton Oilers.
FINAL GRADE: B+