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Peterborough's Kassian draws strength from family

Monday, 06.22.2009 / 4:00 PM / 2009 NHL Entry Draft

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Zack Kassian went into the CHL-NHL Top Prospects Game looking to make an impact in front of NHL scouts.

He certainly did that, as his concussive third-period shoulder check on John Tavares knocked the prospective top pick out of the game with a shoulder injury.

"You play this game to be remembered," Kassian said of the hit. "It's good for me, obviously, getting my name out there. (The attention) doesn't bother me at all."

In fact, the attention is what Kassian, a right wing for the Ontario Hockey League's Peterborough Petes, should be looking for as the 2009 Entry Draft approaches.

At 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, Kassian is built like a classic power forward and has the strength to match.

"He's fun to watch and fun to play against," Guelph Storm forward Peter Holland told NHL.com. "He's not afraid to throw his weight around."

"He's an intimidating guy," Tavares told NHL.com prior to the Top Prospects Game. "He's a guy that's definitely a force out there. He's a guy that goes to the net well. If he sees the opportunity he can finish, he's dangerous being physical and putting the puck in the net."

"I'm a power forward," Kassian told NHL.com. "I like to go into the corners, go to the dirty areas to score goals, set up guys; stand up for teammates. ... Just like to bring a lot of energy to my game. Anything that helps the team succeed."

Kassian did just that, with 24 goals and 63 points in 61 games for the Petes. That package of skill and toughness earned him the No. 10 spot among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings for the 2009 Entry Draft, and No. 3 among OHL forwards. It's a jump from No. 24 at the midterm rankings, which came out in January.

"Kassian is one of the toughest guys in the OHL and probably the entire draft," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "Last season as an under-ager there were overage guys in the league who would not try him on. He has not fought much this season (because) he has not had to. He is at his best when he is playing physical and tough along the boards. He protects the puck very well and fights through checks. He has very good play-making and puck-handling abilities."

"All the NHL teams are looking for someone who can combine the tough gritty play and have a high skill level," Peterborough coach Ken McRae told NHL.com.

Kassian's also been a success off the ice.

The youngest of four children, Kassian was just 8 years old when his father died after a heart attack. That left the parenting chores to Zack's mother, Shirley, and his older brother, Mike.

"My brother really stepped in there to be a father figure," said Zack Kassian. "I have to give a lot of credit to my mom and my brother. They drove me everywhere, got me where I needed and made me the man I am today. They deserve a lot of credit and I thank them a lot."

"(Mike) is constantly there for Zack," Shirley Kassian said. "I blame Zack that I don't have any grandchildren because (Mike) is always with him. He stepped up when his dad died. He's always been there for him, he's always a phone call away, makes sure he has everything. He says, 'Don't worry mom, I'll take care of him.'"

"We have adult conversations now, and I need to sit back and say he's just an 18-year-old kid," Mike Kassian, 30, told NHL.com. "When he was little, I always used to think of him as being through five times, 10 times more things as most kids his own age. He understands life at an advanced age compared to his peers."

Zack simply shrugs at the things that might distract other players his age

"I think some guys get mad because they're not playing here, they're not playing there, they want to get traded," said Kassian. "I don't think they realize that's really nothing. Your family is what's important. When something like that (his father's death) happens it's always a tragedy. But I think it made me stronger to make it to the NHL and make them proud."

"He's one of our leaders," Peterborough coach Ken McRae said of Kassian, who served as an alternate captain this past season. "That shows the character he brings to the table for us."
 
Kassian knew he was being watched by NHL scouts on a nightly basis, but his single-minded focus didn't allow him to be distracted.

"You have to take it one game at a time, one day at a time," he said at the Top Prospects Game in January. "When you're with Peterborough, my main focus is the Peterborough Petes. … You really have to take it one day at a time and really cherish it because it’s a lot of fun."

"I think some guys get mad because they're not playing here, they're not playing there; they want to get traded. I don't think they realize that's really nothing. Your family is what's important. When something like that (his father's death) happens it's always a tragedy. But I think it made me stronger to make it to the NHL and make them proud."
-- Zack Kassian

When things do get tough, though, he has a support group that includes his family -- which also includes older sisters Stephanie, 33, and Amber, 20 -- and former Petes teammate Zach Bogosian, who went through the draft process last year.

Bogosian was drafted No. 3 in the 2008 Entry Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers and made the NHL as an 18-year-old defenseman.

"He drove me when I was a rookie, so he taught me a lot of things," said Kassian. "He's a great player. He's a guy you want to be like on and off the ice. He's a great leader.

"He's great to call when you have a question about this because he's been through it all. It's great to have a guy like Zach."

Kassian has a single-minded focus on reaching the next level.

"If I'm not playing (hockey) I'm watching it," he said. "If I'm not watching it, I'm working out to get better. You need some breaks here and there, but for the most part I'm watching it or playing it."

He does the hard work now because of the hard work his family did in getting him to this point. The family's a tight-knit group that still lives in the Windsor area, and treats the five-hour drive to Peterborough like a run to the corner drug store.

"It's been fantastic," said Mike Kassian. "I know it's been a great ride for him, chasing the dream, but there's times I think about it and say, 'Wow, what an experience.' It's great to be part of. I'm very fortunate."

Zack also feels fortunate.

"You want to succeed because of all the hard work they've put in," he said.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.