With new coach John Tortorella saying he wants the team to have more bite, Kassian is the player who can give them teeth.
"Zack is a unique package," general manager Mike Gillis said. "He is big, strong, he fights and he's got talent. And they are hard players to get and hard players to find and hard players to develop."
Kassian, a 6-foot-3, 214-pound right wing, is the Canucks' second-tallest and second-heaviest forward, behind 6-foot-5, 228-pound part-timer Tom Sestito.
Kassian ranks second among returning Canucks in hits (70) and fighting majors (five) from last season, behind forward Dale Weise (84, seven) in each category.
Tortorella never can have enough players like that, ones willing to throw their weight around, go into tough spots, protect teammates and drop the gloves when necessary.
"If we want to get where we want to be, we have to ask more, and that's a big part of winning in this League, is how hard you play in areas," Tortorella said. "And we're certainly going to try to improve in that area."
Kassian's offensive upside makes him more than a grinder/enforcer and a key component of the Canucks' success this season and in the future.
He had 77 points (26 goals, 51 assists) in 56 games for Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League in 2010-11, and 63 points (24 goals, 39 assists) in 61 games for Peterborough in 2008-09 as an 18-year-old.
But other than a five-goals-in-seven-games start to last season, Kassian has six goals and 10 assists in his 76 other NHL games.
The Canucks traded forward Cody Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres at the 2012 trade deadline to acquire Kassian. Hodgson had 34 points (15 goals, 19 assists) last season, and Gillis found himself defending the deal during a question-and-answer session with fans this summer.
"When you have an opportunity to get one of those players, it's very difficult to not have a very hard look at it," Gillis said of Kassian. "He's still only 22 years old, he showed signs last year of what he's capable of, and if we can get that consistency out of Zack, I think you may change your mind on that trade."
Kassian started last season on the top line with Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, but managed two goals in his final 36 games. He was bothered by back pain, was demoted to the fourth line, ended up in the American Hockey League (reportedly in part for discipline), and did not have a point in a four-game, first-round loss to the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I spoke to management before I went down and they stressed the things I need to work on, both on and off the ice," Kassian told the Vancouver Sun in April. "On the ice, it was just play the way I was early in the season, moving my feet and playing physical. Off the ice, it was just being professional, especially in a market like this. You have to be a professional."
The Canucks are hopeful Kassian can extend his productive play for longer stretches and create trouble only for opponents next season.
"I have really high expectations of Zack," Gillis said.
Author: Mike Battaglino | NHL.com Staff Writer