Zack Kassian is still trying to get settled in with the Vancouver Canucks after a surprise trade from the Buffalo Sabres.
It won't be easy. In addition to getting used to playing for a new team, the 21-year-old rookie winger has to adjust to life in a city that he had never visited before.
“It's still a shock, still a whirlwind, and I'm really excited,” Kassian said Thursday before playing his first home game in a Vancouver uniform against the St. Louis Blues. “I find myself waking up a lot at night and still pinching myself and seeing if it's true.”
Kassian, drafted 13th overall in 2009, was acquired from Buffalo for centre Cody Hodgson. Hodgson was Vancouver's 10th overall choice in 2008, is among the NHL's top-scoring rookies, and played important third-line and power-play roles with the Canucks.
Vancouver is looking for Kassian, a Windsor, Ont., native, to be the power forward it has been looking for since last spring's seventh-game loss to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals.
He has split the season between Buffalo and its Rochester, N.Y., farm team, but is expected to spend the rest of the campaign in the NHL as the Canucks battle to secure first place in the Western Conference and overall. With the on-ice adjustment comes a difficult off-ice move.
He has no friends or relatives in the city.
“It's still a blur,” he said. “For 48 hours it's been pretty crazy, but I'm getting settled in a bit,” he said. “I'm just trying to learn as much as I can every day, trying to improve as a player and trying to get as settled in as possible.”
During his junior days, Kassian was traded from Peterborough to Windsor and had no trouble adapting, because he was moving back to his hometown.
“I had a lot of friends and family around me and to help me out,” said Kassian. “Coming here into the locker-room, I only know (defenceman Marc-Andre) Gragnani, who got traded from Buffalo. So it's a little different in that sense. It's a little further away. A trade's a trade, but at a high level like this, it's a little different.”
Kassian is also adjusting to life in two leagued. His offensive production has been sparse at the NHL level in his first pro season. But he excelled with Rochester in the AHL, producing 15 goals and 11 assists in 26 games.
Kassian also racked up some strong numbers in junior, generating 26 goals and 51 assists in 56 regular-season games during his final season with his hometown Windsor Spitfires in 2010-11. He averaged a point a game in the playoffs, with 16 points in 16 post-season contests. He also produced 16 points in 19 playoff games the year before as Windsor won its second straight Memorial Cup.
But he is wary of trying to do too much too soon with a Stanley Cup contender.
“There's a lot of good players in this room and, obviously, they're doing a lot of the right things where they are in the standings,” he said. “So I don't want to come in here and try and be a world beater and try and show everyone. ... I'm going to try and be a small piece of the big puzzle. In that sense, I'm going to try to fly under the radar.
“But for the most part, I know that's pretty tough in a Canadian city, especially with the Canucks.”
Kassian views his role as being big, bringing energy and playing a hard-nosed game. He is a contrast from Hodgson, who is known for slick moves rather than big hits.
Kassian acknowledged that he will face pressure to match Hodgson's heroics. But he wants people to appreciate his game for what it is.
“I want to be my own player,” said Kassian. “I want to make a name for myself. Other people can compare me to players, but I want to be my own player. That's what I'm here for. It's early. It's my first year of pro. So it starts here.”
Notes: Gragnani was included in the lineup for his first game as a Canuck after being a healthy scratch Tuesday in Phoenix. He replaced Chris Tanev, who was given the night off after struggling against the Coyotes. ... Roberto Luongo was to start in goal for Vancouver. ... The Blues did not skate in the morning after playing in Edmonton the night before.
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