Through almost two months of professional career, Sabres rookie Zack Kassian hasn’t consistently showcased the same intimidating, physical style he played junior.
Why? What happened to the fearsome junior winger whose wicked hits are posted all over Youtube.com?
Kassian’s trying to become a complete player. So far, it’s working. Kassian had seven goals, 14 points and only 17 penalty minutes in 18 AHL games. When the injury-ravaged Sabres needed a forward late last week, they summoned the 20-year-old from Rochester.
“I think I’m physical. I’m not going out of my way to run around,” Kassian said shortly after his recall. “I’m playing like there’s a puck on the ice. Obviously, you’re playing on the top two lines (in Rochester). I’m getting leaned upon to produce. Whenever you get in those situations, you don’t want to waste it. You want to produce.”
But the old Kassian showed up briefly Tuesday inside the First Niagara Center, when he scrapped ferociously with the New York Islanders’ Matt Martin in the first period of the Sabres’ 2-1 loss, his first NHL fight.
Kassian had an assist is his debut Friday, a 5-1 loss in Columbus. Then he scored Saturday in a 5-1 win over Washington.
He began ramping down his play and evolving last year, when he had 26 goals, 77 points and 67 penalty minutes in 56 contests with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires. He was, however, suspended two games with Team Canada at the world junior championship for thumping a Czech defenseman.
Still, Kassian had 291 penalty minutes in his first 157 junior games, 1.9 a game. The OHL even banned him 20 games two years ago for a lethal open-ice hit. Counting last season and the current one, he has 93 penalty minutes in 77 tilts, just 1.2 a game.
“We believe we know what Zack can bring us,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “He’s got a great shot. He is a strong man on the puck. I think he has both elements – a physical side and an offensive side, and offensively, he got off to a great start down in Rochester. I think on the physical side, I think there’s more there.”