Zack Kassian

Buffalo Sabres sign 2009 first round pick Zack Kassian to entry-level deal

When a guy points to Todd Bertuzzi as his favorite player, chances are that person is either: a) a Vancouver Canucks fan who came of age during Bertuzzi’s brief brush with stardom or b) a bit of a ne’er do well.  In fact, that person might be both.

Either way, Buffalo Sabres prospect Zack Kassian is a troubled young player. Yet considering the fact that he was the 13th pick of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, he might just be worth the headaches.

The Sabres signed Kassian to  three-year entry level deal today, according to the team.

Now in his fourth year of junior hockey, the 19-year-old Kassian (1/24/1991, 6’3”, 226 lbs.) currently leads the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires in scoring with 20 points (7+13) through 11 games. Kassian, who missed the start of the OHL season after an extended stay at Sabres training camp, is among the league leaders in scoring and has already posted a pair of four-point games this season.

The Windsor, Ont.-native has 135 points (52+83) in 168 career OHL games with Windsor and Peterborough. Kassian was traded to Windsor last season, and played a key role in the team’s Memorial Cup championship run. He finished with 16 points (7+9) in 19 playoff games, and added another five points (2+3) during the Memorial Cup tournament. The hard-hitting winger has also amassed 365 PIM’s during his four years in junior.

If Kassian can harness his “hard-hitting” tendencies the right way, he can bring the kind of power forward presence that Buffalo has been sorely missing for ages. From the days of Pat LaFontaine to that short but sweet post-lockout run spotlighted by the undersized duo of Danny Briere and Chris Drury, the franchise often lacked a menacing forward in their ranks.

Of course, Kassian using his powers for good (or at least the good of his team) ranks as a pretty big “if.” Much like another troubled but talented prospect Patrice Cormier, Kassian comes with a few marks against him before even landing on the NHL stage. Whether it’s dirty hits on the ice like the one that earned him a 20-game suspension or a bar altercation that garnered him some negative attention off the ice, Kassian won’t be fitted for angel’s wings anytime soon.

But, again, that might not matter if he can keep his nose relatively clean and provide the Sabres with that rare combination of grit, talent and nastiness.

After years of hype, McDavid to play first NHL game

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The hype surrounding Connor McDavid couldn’t be much greater, but finally expectations will start to give way to results.

The NHL career that’s been talked about for years will begin tonight when his Edmonton Oilers face St. Louis.

“It’s something that you dream of for so long,” McDavid told “The draft is one thing, but to finally be in this situation is another, so I’m really excited. It’s been a long road; it’s been a lot of hard work. I think a lot of guys’ stories are different in how they get here, but the one common theme is hard work and my story is not any different that way.”

McDavid has transformed the Oilers with his mere presence. Its breathed fresh optimism into a city that have watched this team struggle in its efforts to dig out of the NHL basement. One also has to wonder if Peter Chiarelli would be the team’s new general manager and Todd McLellan its new head coach if Edmonton hadn’t won the draft lottery.

But where will he lead Edmonton? Will he be just the sixth 70-point rookie of the salary cap era? Will he struggle out of the gate, putting the hype into question? Perhaps he’ll draw comparisons to Steven Stamkos, who had a modest rookie campaign by the standards of a highly regarded top pick, but has nevertheless gone on to become a superstar.

That would surprise Stamkos as the Lightning captain feels McDavid is better than he is currently. Just further proof that those lofty expectations are coming from all sides.

“You don’t want to put too much weight on his shoulders; he’s an 18-year-old kid,” Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “I don’t care how good he is or how good he’ll be, it’s a lot to shoulder if you’re supposed to be the guy and you’re the only guy. Fortunately we have a lot of high-pedigree players that are high picks who have gone through similar situations that he’s going through.”

Edmonton certainly has no shortage of first overall picks, but none as highly regarded as McDavid. But then, few ever are.

Related: There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

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Jack Eichel didn’t disappoint in the preseason, finishing with six points in four games, including two shorthanded goals.

Tonight in Buffalo, his NHL career will start for real when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators in regular-season action.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, stepping foot on that ice and making the NHL,” Eichel said, per “It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but you’re finally playing hockey for a living and everything you’ve done your whole life is to get to this point. It’s pretty special.”

The 18-year-old’s debut was front-page news this morning in Buffalo, where the Sabres have been among the NHL’s worst teams since last making the playoffs in 2010-11.

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Granted, even with the additions of Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Robin Lehner and Cody Franson, expectations for 2015-16 remain modest for the new-look Sabres. Certainly, a spot in the playoffs would count as a surprise.

But for the fans of a team that’s barely possessed the puck the past couple of years, it’s night and day.

“People are excited,” GM Tim Murray said earlier this week. “It’s great. They think we’ve improved, and there’s a real positive vibe, I believe.

“That’s what I said to our coaches, ‘I want everybody to be positive. I’m the only guy in the organization allowed to be negative.’ That’s the way I wanted it. If I’m the most negative guy in the city about the team, that’s pretty good.”