Buffalo Sabres: Why Zack Kassian Should Make the Opening Day Roster

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Zack Kassian walked into Buffalo Sabres training camp without an entry-level contract. The Sabres broke off negotiations with their first-round pick (13th Overall) in 2009 after his arrest in Windsor, Ontario for a bar fight in celebration after he helped the Windsor Spitfires win the Memorial Cup championship in the OHL.

That was after he was suspended for 20 games after a dirty hit to the head of Barrie Colts’ forward Matt Kennedy in his first game with the Spitfires.

At the start of Sabres’ rookie camp, Kassian said that he has put the incidents behind him and that he was ready to focus solely on playing hockey. This mentality has helped him grab the attention of the coaches and the front office as he has resumed negotiations with the Sabres on a contract.

During the early stages of camp, Kassian has not disappointed.

In the first scrimmage of camp, Kassian nailed Tyler Myers early, shocking the crowd in attendance who applauded appreciatively. Later in the shootout portion of the scrimmage, Kassian undressed Patrick Lalime and put the puck top shelf on the backhand.

In the second scrimmage the day after, he scored again, snapping a 2-2 tie with a quick shot that beat Jhonas Enroth.

His performance in those two games was enough to warrant Kassian playing time in the Sabres’ upcoming exhibition games. Most junior players in NHL training camps are sent back to their teams before the preseason games, but Kassian is going to stick around.

Often compared to the Boston Bruins’ Milan Lucic, Kassian is a bruising forward (6’3”, 226) who is not afraid to fight, hit, and mix it up with the toughest players at any level of hockey.

Chris Edwards of NHL Central Scouting prior to the 2009 NHL Entry Draft said that “there were overage guys in the [OHL] who would not take him on.” On top of that, Kassian has slick hands and can score a bunch of goals.

In his OHL career split between the Peterborough Petes and the Windsor Spitfires, he has amassed 115 points in 157 games, 45 of those points goals. He also has 291 penalty minutes during that span.

In 2008-2009, he scored 63 points in 61 games with the Petes along with 136 penalty minutes, all career highs.

It is no secret that Kassian has made a very positive impression on Lindy Ruff and the coaching staff so far in camp. Good showings in the upcoming preseason games will put pressure on Darcy Regier and the front office to resume negotiations with Kassian and his agent on an entry-level contract, and will also force forwards such as Nathan Gerbe, Cody McCormick, and Drew Stafford to step up their games.

He brings a very unique element to a Sabres team, which is often criticized for being pushed around too often by tougher teams, especially in the playoffs.

Kassian has the ability to play in all types of roles, from a grinder on the fourth line, to a top line power forward.

Playing on a line with Tyler Ennis and Rob Niedermayer in the Sabres’ first preseason game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Kassian made a pretty pass to Ennis on a two-on-one for a goal. He also had a couple big hits: one on Christian Hanson early in the first period and another on Jesse Blacker that led directly to a goal by Rob Niedermayer.

Kassian’s versatility along with his style of play is a rare breed in the NHL, and the Sabres should give this very gifted forward a shot to be in the lineup October 8 against the Ottawa Senators.

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