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PRINCIPE: Zack in the saddle

by Gene Principe / Edmonton Oilers
Photo by Getty Images

You sometimes never know what will or won't work when you are putting together an NHL team. It's Todd McLellan's job to coach the players that are inherited or delivered to him by GM Peter Chiarelli. The new man on the job was busy this summer wheeling and dealing, but in season he's only made one trade. It came right after the holiday freeze was over. One-for-one, Ben Scrivens to Montreal and Zack Kassian to Edmonton. After the trade, Chiarelli talked about being on the phone with Kassian over the Christmas holidays."More or less, he called and we spoke about my progress and what was going on" explained the call-up from the Bakersfield Condors. "He (Chiarelli) wanted to check on everything and to see what my working out was like" said Kassian.

Upon first impressions, Kassian definitely looked in shape. In his opener Thursday night he played 14:23 and had 4 hits against San jose. He also looked like a hockey player. That tends to happen when you're missing a tooth. A recognizable gap-toothed smile that received attention from, among others, the Jay Leno show. "Actually, it occurred three years ago when I was playing in Rochester of the AHL" explained the soon to be 25-year-old. "I ran into a teammate and had the tooth knocked out" and  he went onto add "it also happened while I was playing junior in the Ontario Hockey League."

His time in the OHL led to his first step in the NHL. The year was 2009 and prior to winning a Mastercard Memorial Cup with Windsor in 2010, where he was a teammate of Taylor Hall, Kassian was playing in Peterborough. The rugged forward was taken 13th overall by Buffalo. "It was such a memorable time for me and my family and friends" said Kassian. "The draft was in Montreal, so it was easy for them to join me and it was special." While he knew who would be with him he didn't know who would be drafting him. "I really had no idea" is the way Kassian put it. "I kind of had a range in mind but I really wasn't sure where I would go."

Kassian's career ended up going in a different direction. From Buffalo to Vancouver and then Montreal. Before playing a regular season game with the Canadiens, Kassian was involved in an early morning accident. He wasn't driving, but suffered a broken nose and foot in the collision. The truck was damaged and so was Kassian. He needed help and got it in Stage Two of the NHL's Substance and Behavioural Health Program where he spent the last three months.

"It's important that you stay on top of it" explained Kassian “It's kind of like re-wiring your brain. You have to keep on top of it every single day." Kassian went onto add "this is a disease. I continue to have sponsor meetings and doing everything I can to keep my life clean."

After four games in the minors, Kassian was promoted from the AHL but this isn't your everyday call-up. "The human side is way more important than the hockey side,” is how Oilers coach Todd McLellan explained the dynamics around his newest player.

"We look at our players and make sure there isn't anything out of character for them and Zack will be treated the same way,” said McLellan. “We're here to help Zack be successful."

Ironically, he's here to help the Edmonton Oilers be successful. The plan is for this to be a win-win for the team and more importantly the player, or person, Zack Kassian.
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