The Zack Kassian Project has entered its next phase.
Kassian, the 22-year-old power-forward-in-the-making, has come to Vancouver Canucks training camp leaner and quicker by his own admission, looking to make a greater impact over a longer period of time during the season.
“I think every year is important with your progress and this year is a unique situation with the new coaches,” Kassian said Wednesday, when the Canucks opened training camp with physicals at Rogers Arena.
Kassian, at 6’3” and 214 pounds, has the size. He’s tough and not afraid come down heavy on those who might take liberties with his teammates.
He’s shown to have a surprisingly innate ability to pass the puck and soft hands with a scoring touch. Raw tools, you know?
Getting all of that out of Kassian as much as possible throughout an 82-game season remains a charge, now inherited by John Tortorella.
The new head coach has heard from numerous people about Kassian’s potential and reached out to him this summer.
“I want to give him every opportunity to be a huge part of this team. And I told him that,” said Tortorella.
“It’s something that I think the team needs, in terms of his willingness, as far as his playing into a bigger role within the team. I’d like to see it happen. He’s going to get the opportunity, but he’s going to sink or swim himself.
“We come down to it, we’re putting players in spots or letting players go, we’re not making the decision, they’re going to make the decisions as far as how they handle themselves at camp. That’s why I contacted Zack, because I think it’s a big year for him, and it’s a year I want him to step out of himself and be a big part of this club.”
That includes getting a look on the right wing with the twins, Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Kassian played with the Sedins at times last season and had success. With his large frame, he was able to get in front of the net. It was up to the Sedins to find him and give him the puck, and in their small sample size of work together, that’s exactly what they did with positive results.
Kassian, of course, would welcome the chance to be re-united with the Sedins.
“With open arms,” he said.
“Obviously that’s up to me…I’ll play wherever the coach feels I can help the team.”
Playing with the twins was fleeting. Kassian spent time plenty of time on the fourth line and was briefly sent down to the American Hockey League.
“It’s always tough when you’re bouncing around on lines but I don’t like using excuses,” said Kassian.
“I need to get more consistent and the mental side of the game, for me, I feel like I’ve grown this summer and I come in more mature and stronger and better shape than last season.”
He is still young. There will still be mistakes along the way.
Tortorella appears willing to be show more patience with Kassian, which was something Alain Vigneault was criticized plenty for not doing enough of.
“He’s a young kid. That’s part of the process is patience,” said Tortorella.
“We want him to feel good about himself. I want him to understand that going into camp but also know – and I think he does know – that he’s going to have to earn everything he gets.”