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Kassian aims for fresh start with Canadiens

by Arpon Basu / NHL.com

The Vancouver Canucks ran out of patience with Zack Kassian. The Montreal Canadiens hope to benefit from that lack of patience.

The Canucks traded Kassian, the 13th player taken in the 2009 NHL Draft, and a fifth-round pick in 2016 to the Canadiens on Wednesday for forward Brandon Prust, ending a tumultuous four seasons in Vancouver for the hulking right wing.

Canucks general manager Jim Benning explained that he wanted to add toughness and consistency to his lineup by replacing Kassian with Prust, who is seven years older and carries a salary-cap charge that is $750,000 more than Kassian's.

"With young players, they have to figure out the fine line between being a professional and doing the things on the ice that they're capable of doing," Benning said. "With Zack, it was more his consistency on the ice that we felt we just wanted somebody that was going to work harder, compete every shift and supply a need for us in the toughness department that Brandon's going to give us."

It's a summary of the trade that is condemning for Kassian, but he does not disagree with the assessment.

"I need to find consistency," Kassian told TSN. "Honestly, after spending 3 1/2 years, four years in the League I know what I have to do to be the player I need to be. This summer I'm really taking strides forward. Coming into next year I want to have a big year. It's obviously a big year for me. I've matured a lot as a person, as a player, and I can't wait to get going."

Kassian is 24, an age by which most first-round draft picks have shown whether they will fulfill the promise that led a team to draft them so high.

But this is already Kassian's third team. He was traded by the club that drafted him, the Buffalo Sabres, to the Canucks in 2012 for center Cody Hodgson, who was bought out by the Sabres and signed a one-year contract with the Nashville Predators on Wednesday.

Kassian knows he is running out of chances.

"My time in Vancouver, deep down I think I could have [given] more, and they knew that," Kassian said. "But at the end of the day I'm going to a great organization. To be honest, I'm thrilled and I know this is a big opportunity for me and I'm going to take advantage of it."

It's a pretty low-risk trade for both parties.

For Benning, he gets a reliable bottom-six forward in Prust, one who can kill penalties and will drop the gloves when necessary. He is a popular teammate who knows what he does well and sticks to that. The lone risk for Benning is that Kassian thrives in Montreal, which is what Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin is banking on.

The risk for Bergevin was practically nonexistent.

Prust's presence in the dressing room should not be discounted, but he was entering the final year of his contract and was unlikely to return as an unrestricted free agent next summer. If Kassian finally figures it out in Montreal, Bergevin has added the big power forward many have said the Canadiens have lacked for years. If he doesn't, Kassian is a restricted free agent next summer and Bergevin can trade him or let him walk.

The biggest knock on the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Kassian is the lack of consistency and snarl to his game; Benning repeatedly mentioned his desire to add toughness was a big reason why he made the trade. However, Kassian's offensive numbers are tantalizing, even if he is considered to be an underachiever.

In an injury-riddled 2014-15 season, Kassian scored 1.08 goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, according to war-on-ice.com. The only Canadiens player who played at least 400 minutes at 5-on-5 and had a better goal rate than that was leading scorer Max Pacioretty, who scored 1.18 goals per 60 minutes of ice time.

Kassian did not play much in Vancouver, averaging 12:37 per game and playing 39 seconds per game on the power play. He is likely to get more ice time in Montreal. With the buyout of PA Parenteau, there is a spot at right wing in the top-six that would appear to have Kassian's name on it.

In his four seasons in Vancouver, Kassian was unable to find a permanent home. His most frequent linemate at 5-on-5 during his time with the Canucks, according to hockeyanalysis.com, was Brad Richardson, who played in Vancouver for the past two seasons before signing with the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday.

Kassian spent 29.7 percent of his total 5-on-5 ice time in Vancouver playing with Richardson, indicating to what extent the Canucks were unable to find a consistent fit for him in the lineup.

Canadiens coach Michel Therrien is not known for maintaining consistency among his forwards, but it would be difficult to imagine Kassian not getting at least an opportunity to build some chemistry with one of Montreal's top two centers, Tomas Plekanec or David Desharnais.

It would appear as though Kassian never fulfilled expectations in Vancouver that he play the role of the consummate power forward, a player who can hit, fight and score.

He was acquired by Vancouver in the season following the Canucks' loss to Milan Lucic and the Boston Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final by former GM Mike Gillis, and was traded away by Benning, who used to work for the Bruins.

Now that Lucic is no longer in the Canadiens' division after he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings at the 2015 draft, the Canucks' disappointment should be a warning to Bergevin and Therrien not to expect Kassian to be a Lucic clone.

It's become clear at this point that is not how Kassian is wired. But that doesn't mean he can't still be an effective player.

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