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Canadiens confident Kassian can help offense

by Arpon Basu

BROSSARD, Quebec -- The Montreal Canadiens are willing to give Zack Kassian another chance, and the forward is fully aware it might be his last one.

Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin acquired the hulking right wing from the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday, Montreal's only move on the opening day of free agency in an attempt to address its dire need of scoring up front.

Kassian has always had the potential to provide that kind of offensive punch, which is what led the Buffalo Sabres to take him with the 13th pick in the 2009 NHL Draft. But he has yet to prove he can do it in the NHL.

After having been traded for the second time in his career at the age of 24, Kassian said he is grateful for the opportunity the Canadiens are giving him.

"Vancouver was great to me, great organization, great people," Kassian said Thursday. "It's just one of those things, when you're young and you come into the League, you have to find your role and find what you can do. There's a lot of bumps in the road, but I think over the years I've gained a lot of maturity. I'm more than excited to be part of the Canadiens and to have a fresh start and be the player I can be."

Bergevin said he is cognizant of the problems Kassian had in Vancouver. His consistency was a constant issue, and the reasons behind that are what make this move a calculated risk.

Bergevin traded away one of the more popular players in the Canadiens locker room, left wing Brandon Prust, whose dedication had an effect on his teammates, in order to bring in someone whose work ethic was a question mark in Vancouver.

There's no question Kassian has the talent, and that was enough to convince Bergevin the risk was worth it.

"He's a young guy that's trying to find his way. But he's a young player that has upside," Bergevin said. "I had a conversation with him and we did our homework and we feel if he does reach his potential, we might have something here. But really it's up to him.

"We feel he could provide some offense if he reaches his full potential. I can't do it. He has to do it. But he has a chance to do it here."

The Canadiens were 20th in the NHL in goals last season, the lowest-scoring team to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was an area of obvious need, but Bergevin said he did not feel he had to address it through free agency.

Kassian will be given an opportunity to claim a top-six role and will likely be given a chance at playing the right side on the top line with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais. If that's the case, it will be the third consecutive year a new player will line up there, following Daniel Briere in 2013 and PA Parenteau last season.

Neither of those players made it to a second season with Montreal. Kassian said he intends to do everything in his power to make sure he doesn't follow the same pattern. He can become a restricted free agent on July 1, 2016.

"I really feel like Montreal's a great fit for me; I'm ready to do everything to help the team win," Kassian said. "I'm excited to get there. No one wants to get traded two times, but like I said, it's a learning curve and I'm excited. I'm excited to be a Montreal Canadien."

Kassian never appeared to fit the role the Canucks wanted him to play. His frame (6-foot-3, 214 pounds) coupled with his skills around the net is perfect to play a prototypical power-forward role, but Kassian never appeared to be able to combine those aspects successfully in Vancouver.

Bergevin said Kassian will not necessarily be counted on to provide a physical presence on every shift, as long as he is contributing offensively and using his size to his advantage in other ways.

"A player doesn't have to run people over to be effective," Bergevin said. "Because if you have the puck, you don't need to hit anybody. So if you hold on to the puck down low, you take pucks to the net, you make yourself available, you lean on people; that's hockey."

Bergevin said the Canadiens can improve offensively through two avenues. First would be one of their prospects making the team in training camp. Bergevin mentioned Sven Andrighetto, Charles Hudon and Daniel Carr in the American Hockey League, and junior players Nikita Scherbak and Michael McCarron, as candidates to have an impact this season.

"One of the reasons there's a draft every year is to get young players," Bergevin said. "At some point you have to look at what you have and give your kids a chance."

But the most important avenue to create more offense would be the power play, which finished 23rd in the NHL at 16.5 percent and scored twice in 36 opportunities in the playoffs.

Bergevin said if the Canadiens can improve on those numbers, the offense will suddenly become less of a problem, and he is not willing to sacrifice defensive play to get the offense going.

But aside from Kassian, there doesn't appear to be a reason to think any tangible changes will be made. Assistant coach Dan Lacroix, who runs the power play, will be back, and the personnel should be largely the same, though it will benefit from a full season of defenseman Jeff Petry.

Bergevin preached patience when asked how the power play could improve without any changes and suggested he might have a few tricks left up his sleeve to address it this summer.

"We're July 2," he said. "I'm looking at stuff that can make it better."

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