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FEATURE: Kassian's impact

"He's just kind of the heart and soul of our team. He brings the energy every night and it's great to have him here for the next four years," Leon Draisaitl said

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - There was plenty for Zack Kassian to process, but just not enough time.

In the days leading up to his return to the Oilers lineup following a suspension and an extended All-Star Break, the forward focused in on both his own and his team's preparation for the final 33 games that each bare similar significance in a crowded Pacific Division playoff race.

There was the Battle of Alberta, where emotions and tensions reached critical levels in a Wednesday night matchup billed as the most meaningful duel between the provincial rivals since Game 7 of the first round of the 1991 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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Then, there was unfinished personal business from their last rendezvous at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Don't fault Kassian for not paying extra attention to his new contract extension that was made official prior to puck drop, keeping him in Blue & Orange for the next four seasons.

"I had no time to think, really," Kassian said post-game on Wednesday. "We got back from break and we're trying to ramp it up. Obviously, I'll think about it a little bit (Wednesday night) … but going into the game, especially this game, you didn't know what was going to happen."

"You wanted to kind of put the contract aside and wait for it to come out tomorrow, but all-in-all I'm very excited."

The laundry list of reasons why Kassian re-upped in Edmonton extends longer than the one that kept the 29-year-old even-keeled when putting pen to paper - from his transformative experience in the city and his growing family to the opportunity to be part of future plans in a locker room packed with promise.

"I love being an Oiler, I love the city, I love the fans, and I love my teammates," he said. 

"I feel when Kenny came in with Tipp, they were building something special here. I'm happy to be a small piece to that puzzle. I'm more than happy and I'm excited for myself, excited for my family, and excited for my daughter."

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To his teammates, when questioned about the value Kassian brings to the locker room, you don't need to dig deep. It's all on the surface in his performances and attitude.

"He's just kind of the heart and soul of our team," Leon Draisaitl said. "He brings the energy every night and it's great to have him here for the next four years. I think everyone is extremely excited for him to sign that contract."

"He's huge for our team. He plays a lot of minutes, plays on our top line, and really does it all. He steps up when he has to."

Kassian's role as an energizer has been followed with offence this season in the form of a career-year of 13 goals and 28 points in 45 games, with his spark-plug approach on the ice being a major motivator to his peers.

"Obviously you see what he brings on the ice," defenceman Darnell Nurse said. "He's a guy that brings it each and every night, and in the room he's such a good guy. He's a player that goes to bat for each and every guy in here. We're really lucky to have him.

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Head Coach Dave Tippett has deployed Kassian on a line with Connor McDavid this season as a regular contributor boasting size, skill, speed and tenacity. As far as the bench boss is concerned, there's still room for him to grow offensively.

"I still think there's more upside in him on the offensive part. Especially at 5-on-5, he's been a good player for us," Tippett said. 

"He's just one of those guys in your room you need. Guys like that, if you want to go into playoff series and have chances to win, he brings a lot of good play, good skill, but he brings good passion and emotion to the team also."

Fans around Oil Country will remember Kassian as a playoff contributor, and it's where the Oilers forward has his sights set.

"I'm excited for the playoff push to get this team to the playoffs," he said. "I'm excited to be a small piece to the puzzle that Kenny is trying to build a contender around here."

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