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Trade brings opportunity for Kassian, risk and reward for Oilers

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

When Zack Kassian woke up Monday morning, it was a new day.

That goes without saying. Of course, it was a new day. However, this morning represented much more to Kassian than the earth’s standard rotation on its axis. Monday brought new opportunity.

The Oilers acquired the forward from Montreal, in exchange for goaltender Ben Scrivens.

“Three months ago, I wasn’t really sure what my future was really going to be like,” said Kassian. “To wake up to be given another chance, I can’t thank the Oilers organization enough.”

Three months ago, Kassian didn’t know what future second chances life had in store. The veteran of nearly 200 NHL games was checked into a substance abuse program by the league. He was reinstated on December 15, and was placed on waivers. He’s waited in hockey limbo since, until the sun rose on Monday morning.

“I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m willing to put in that work,” said Kassian.

The Oilers aren’t blind to the risks this trade brings with it.

“Zack has got a checkered past with substance abuse,” said Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli.

The GM did his research and conducted his interviews. The two parties exchanged conversation throughout the Christmas break. Chiarelli wouldn’t pull the trigger on the trade until he was satisfied with the information gathered, and after the roster freeze was lifted of course.

“I felt satisfied, knowing that there will be risk attached with completing this transaction,” said Chiarelli. “Frankly, the one thing that Zack said to me is ‘I could promise you things, but I’m going to have to show you these things.’ That was a pretty telling comment and he’s got a few obstacles to overcome before or if he ever gets (back) to this league.” 

Kassian recalled his conversations with Chiarelli, reiterating what he told his new manager.

“It’s not about me telling him, it’s about me acting,” Kassian said. “I think that’s what I have to do. Everyone knows it’s not my first second chance. I really need to grab the bull by the horns here and take the initiative and get my life turned around and my game back. The only thing I can do from here on out is do it by the way I play and the way I act.”

With Kassian, there are risks. But there are also rewards.

When the 24-year-old winger was coming out for the 2009 NHL Draft, he drew comparisons to Milan Lucic. He projected as a power forward with imposing size and skills to go with it.

Photo by Getty Images

“Kassian is one of the toughest guys in the OHL and probably the entire draft,” NHL Central Scouting’s Chris Edwards said at the time.

“Amazing package of skill and size. He could take games over in a heartbeat,” said Oilers winger Taylor Hall, who played with Kassian for the Windsor Spitfires. The two won the 2010 Memorial Cup together.

“I’ve always said to people that his package of skill and size is one of the best I’ve ever seen. If he has his stuff together and he can bring a good attitude to our team, I think he could really help,” said Hall.

The Oilers are hoping the 6-foot-3, 217-pound winger does have “his stuff together,” because a mentally and physically healthy Kassian can provide more heaviness to the team.

“It just complements our team to have bigger bodies that can lean on guys, that can wear D down,” said Chiarelli. “We’re a rush team now. I’d like a little more cycle component in our game and I think it’s a more durable type of component for winning in the long run, to have that type of game too. He’s that type of player. He can cycle pucks, he’s got skill that he can make plays off a cycle and he can lean on D.”

Kassian will report to the Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League. There, he will try to get back to game shape, which he admitted himself he is not. In Bakersfield, Kassian will also try and show he can be the productive player that went 13th overall in the 2009 Draft.

“I’m really excited to get the opportunity to go to Bakersfield,” said Kassian. “My end goal is to make it up to the Edmonton Oilers, but I’m taking it a day at a time and I’m going into Bakersfield. I’m like anyone else. I have to earn my call-up.”

Kassian doesn’t shy away from what happened three months ago. He seems at peace with it. That being said, you can only look back so much if forward is the direction you intend to move. Before forward progress could be made, Kassian needed to get his life in order. Everything else comes after.

“I’m totally fine with what has happened and it’s kind of the past is in the past,” he said. “I can hold my head high and I can be proud of myself for what I’ve went through and the person I became throughout this process. It’s life changing. I’m trying to change my life around. I’m not fixed, by any means, but I’m working forward and I’ve got a good foundation to build off of. First is being healthy and mentally sound and getting my life on track. Secondly, hockey comes. My life is going well and my off-ice issues are taken care of. The hockey comes natural.”

It’s a new day for Kassian, and he knows it’s on him to make the most of it.

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