VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks forward Zack Kassian returns to the lineup Saturday night against the Detroit Red Wings, a franchise he grew up cheering for in nearby Windsor, Ontario. But Kassian is only concerned about impressing his own team right now.
Kassian has missed 14 games since breaking his pinky finger on Nov. 25, but was a healthy scratch for the last one. Canucks general manager Jim Benning admitted Friday to taking calls from other teams about Kassian, who was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres at the 2012 NHL trade deadline for center Cody Hodgson.
“There’s a lot of talk. I’m not even playing and people are talking about me,” Kassian said. “I’m excited to just go out and play. Most importantly I want to come back and contribute any way I can to help the team win. I think I can be a big part of this team. I believe in it and if I have to make others believe I will do that.”
To win over the Canucks, the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Kassian knows he has to play a physical style more consistently. Projected as a power forward with soft hands when the Sabres drafted him 13th in 2009, Kassian has failed to earn a top-six role with three different coaches since coming to Vancouver almost three years ago.
“You have to be physical and sometimes I’ve had trouble doing that,” said Kassian, who turns 24 later this month. “I’ve been put in the lineup to be physical and bring energy. I don’t think I am in a situation to really blow up the stats sheet by any means.”
Kassian finished last season with 10 points in his final 10 games, but has two goals and five points in 17 games this season, and is more focused on his physical play. He said he knows it won’t be easy against a skilled Red Wings team with the NHL’s third best power play.
“It’s a tough task, the Wings are quick; tough to hit,” Kassian said.
The Red Wings are starting a six-game road trip and play 17 of the next 23 games on the road, including another six-game trip through the end of February. They arrived in Vancouver on Thursday and practiced Friday to try and ensure a good start to the long trip.
“It's important on a trip like this to get off to a good start,” center Stephen Weiss said. “When you fly in the day before it's tough to get off the plane and have good jump. So no excuses now, we came in a day early, had a really good skate, and we’ll be ready to go.”
The Red Wings are third in the Atlantic Division, but have played 23 of 39 games at home. Coach Mike Babcock said he sees the upcoming travel-heavy schedule as a test of how good they can really be.
“We want to keep pushing one another to get better and we have a chance to be good team, otherwise you just stay in the mud puddle with everybody,” Babcock said. “There are 20 teams in that group. There’s are a few at the top and a whole bunch of us that are all the same and one day you say ‘gee we’re okay’ and then you look below at who is underneath you and just out of the playoffs and you are not far away. I think it's just as important to live scared and get better.”
Vancouver is a good place to start: Detroit has won three straight and recorded points in eight straight (6-0-2) against the Canucks.
“It seems like we are going to be on the road for two months so we’re just going to have to play a simple road game and try to get points,” starting goalie Jimmy Howard said. “This is going to be a tough two months, and we are going to have to go into some difficult places to play so we need that good start from the beginning.”
Here are the projected lineups:
Henrik Zetterberg - Pavel Datsyuk - Justin Abdelkader
Tomas Tatar - Riley Sheahan - Tomas Jurco
Johan Franzen - Darren Helm - Gustav Nyquist
Drew Miller - Luke Glendening - Stephen Weiss
Jonathan Ericsson - Niklas Kronwall
Danny DeKeyser - Kyle Quincey
Brendan Smith - Xavier Ouellet
Scratched: Daniel Cleary, Joakim Andersson, Brian Lashoff
Injured: Jakub Kindl (elbow), Jonas Gustavsson (shoulder)
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Radim Vrbata
Chris Higgins - Nick Bonino - Jannik Hansen
Shawn Matthias - Brad Richardson - Zack Kassian
Alexandre Burrows - Bo Horvat - Derek Dorsett
Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev
Ryan Stanton – Kevin Bieksa
Luca Sbisa - Yannick Weber
Scratched: Linden Vey, Bobby Sanguinetti
Injured: Dan Hamhuis (lower body)
Status report: Vey will be a healthy scratch for the third time this season to make room for Kassian’s return. Vey started the season on the top power play unit, which kept him in the lineup through some mediocre five-on-five results, but has since been replaced there by Alexandre Burrows. Vey has no goals and two assists in his past 12 games. … The Canucks assigned forward Tom Sestito, who has played three games this season, to the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League on Saturday morning after he cleared waivers. … Kindl skated again on Saturday and could return from an elbow injury once he is eligible to come off injured reserve Sunday. Gustavsson is also traveling with the team and took shots Saturday, but is not ready to return from a Nov. 5 shoulder injury so backup Mrazek will likely play one of back-to-back games in Edmonton on Tuesday, or Calgary on Wednesday.
Who's hot: Miller was beaten on the final two shots against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday as Vancouver blew a 2-1 lead in the last 2:07 and lost 3-2, but Miller has stopped 161 of 170 shots while going 3-1-1 in his past five starts as he prepares to face brother Drew, a Red Wings forward, in front of his parents, who have flown in for the game. … Datsyuk has one goal and four assists during his current five-game point streak.