There will be plenty of debate about the wisdom of the Buffalo Sabres’ spending spree, but when it comes to the makeup of the teams’ fleet of forwards, there should be little question that the team leans more toward finesse than last season. From their skilled set of wingers to new acquisition Ville Leino and rehabbed center Derek Roy, the team might lack a bit of sandpaper – especially since rugged defensive players such as Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer are no longer on the roster.
His future might not look as bright until the salary cap dust settles, but one forward who might try to fill that physical void is polarizing prospect Zack Kassian. The 13th overall pick of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft has become notorious for his thunderous – and some might say, dirty – hits, particularly two blows that earned him suspensions.
Kassian admitted that he regrets the hit he landed on Matt Kennedy that earned him a 20-game suspension in his first game with the Windsor Spitfires in 2010. He believes that the negative attention from that check on Kennedy bled into the decision to suspend him for what he believes was a clean hit during the 2011 World Junior Championships.
One can debate the validity of Kassian’s claims, but it’s likely that he will make an impact in Buffalo sooner or later. Again, the Sabres need to sort out their cap issues – they’re currently about $3.6 million above the ceiling. Once they do, Kassian could bring an intriguing mix of size, physicality and scoring prowess to the table at an affordable $875K cap hit … if he can manage to avoid getting suspended.
Kassian will try to make the Buffalo Sabres out of training camp next month, but even if he is unsuccessful, logic suggests he will end up in uniform at some point this season. He has so much of what the Sabres seem to need, with a low salary cap hit off the ice and the lurking promise of a massive hit on the ice.
“I need to play with an edge, but I have to make sure I don’t cross that edge,” he said Tuesday. “With all the skill Buffalo has, I think they need some grit and definitely some people that are hard to play against to give those skilled guys some room. I feel like I can fill that job, and hopefully, I can do it sooner than later.”
The Sabres picked Kassian 13th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and they have seen their prospect earn nationwide exposure in Canada for reasons both good and bad. He has been a Memorial Cup champion and a member of Canada’s national junior team, but he has also briefly been the star of junior hockey’s most wanted list.
It’s likely that Kassian will be on the Sabres’ radar until he makes a prolonged impact at the NHL level, but he’ll also get plenty of attention from officials who are aware of his lower moments. If Kassian can find a way to bring that edge without going over the line, he’ll be a serious asset for Buffalo. That might be a big if, though.