Sitting on the Canucks’ bench during a short break in play on April 5th, Zack Kassian – like many of the other players, chatting and drawing breath – had his eyes on the jumbotron, and a montage of Pavel Bure’s most dazzling moments in a Vancouver jersey. The ‘Russian Rocket’ was being honoured in-arena, and a standing ovation from the crowd acknowledged that it was a rare kind of hockey that – realistically – may never be seen on ice again. Kassian disagreed. Finding himself attacking the crease a short moment later, he channelled Pavel and tried a clever stick-to-skate deke he’d just seen on tape. “For some reason as I was skating to the net, I just decided to try it. I had never ever tried that move before and it didn’t work out too well for me. My skate didn’t even hit the ice and the puck went right underneath it.”
The moment made for laughs in the dressing room and light-hearted stories in the press, but it was not an insubstantial symbol of Kassian’s development. In a later, more pressing game against the Chicago Blackhawks, in which division titles and the President’s Trophy were on the line, Kassian summoned up the spirit of another ex-Canuck: Todd Bertuzzi. At net front, he pushed himself clear of Duncan Keith and, with newfound space and an incoming puck, leaned gently back to tap in the 2-0 goal. It all looked uncannily natural.
Zack Kassian not only holds his heroes in high esteem, but understands much about the way they play and has the belief that he, too, can play like that. It’s a rare self-efficacy for a 22-year old, especially one who has been in and out of the minor league with such frequency. Though he has been labelled as inconsistent by the public, such doubt has never reached Kassian himself: over the course of a 48-game season, he raised himself up from an uncertain prospect utilized for less than five minutes per game against Los Angeles, to a capable and powerful specialist playing around thirteen. In this most recent series he looked as comfortable cycling the puck with the Sedins as he was laying hits and making bad-angle chaos with Maxim Lapierre.
It is his time spent with Daniel and Henrik that should be most exciting for followers of the Canucks. He has already shown an ability to slip into the twins’ idiomatic puck-possession game, using his great strength to effectively cycle behind the net and feed chances with quick hands that betray his lumbering, beastly size. What the Sedins can give to Kassian represents an unusual skillset for a power forward: a few intangible quirks, perhaps, of their selfless yet reliably productive play. What it represents to the Canucks’ organization is the rare chance to extend a winning formula into the new generation.