With the Oilers acquiring 24 year old winger Zack Kassian from Montreal, I figured it'd be wise to look into the player's history to see what his role could be going forward.
First off, I don't mind this trade. Mainly because Ben Scrivens gets a legitimate chance to extend his NHL career. The Oilers also get their goaltending depth sorted out with young Eetu Laurikainen now able to develop in Bakersfield rather than Finland. And as for Kassian, he's an undervalued asset right now because of his off-ice issues who will have to work his way back into game shape at the AHL level. If he can get himself into consideration for a call-up, he'll be competing with the current stable of Oilers prospects, and will then have to compete with Lauri Korpikoski, Luke Gazdic and Iiro Pakarinen for ice time. This isn't a huge risk at all as Kassian's contract is up at the end of the season. Now with that aside, and separating our personal issues with him, we can start diving into the numbers.
Here's how the winger has done at even-strength over his past four seasons with Buffalo and Vancouver (Source: War on Ice)
His numbers aren't nearly as bad as I thought they would be. Possession-wise, he's been alright, but when it comes to suppressing scoring chances, he has struggled. He's played under three different head coaches, including Alain Vigneault, John Tortorella and Willie Desjardins. In his time in Vancouver, he played predominantly on the third line against third line competition, but also spent time in the press box this past season. Despite that, he was still seen as an improving player who had plenty of upside. Thomas Drance from Canucks Army provided this in February 2015:
The burly forward has come into his own as a two-way player, and to these eyes, has been particularly effective when cutting through the neutral zone with control of the puck this season (and towards the tail end of last year). His play without the puck is also significantly less noticeable than it has been in years past, which we mean as a compliment.
Of the four forwards with whom Kassian has played at least 40 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, all four have done better by shot attempt differential alongside the oft-disciplined forward than they've done without him. Similarly, last season, all three forwards with whom Kassian spent at least 200 minutes at 5-on-5 fared better by the shot based metrics with Kassian than without. (Source: Canucks Army)
Reviewing Kassian's WOWY numbers over the past three season, we can confirm that he hasn't been any sort of significant drag on his most common linemates. In the graph below, I've only included the forwards that Kassian played more than 150 minutes with at even strength, ranked from most minutes to least. (Source: Hockey Analysis)
Bit of a range of players that Kassian played with. Worth noting that Kassian's best season was in 2013-14 when he played the majority of his minutes with Brad Richardson and David Booth, with 20 of his 28 points coming alongside the former. In 2014-15, he played again with Richardson, but this time Shawn Matthias replaced Booth, which didn't result in the same level of success. In fact, Kassian and his linemates in 2014/15 were on the ice for a lot more scoring chances against.. And the Canucks fared much better when it came to scoring goals when Kassian and his linemates were off the ice. This might be a result of having a new linemate in Matthias or the changing team strategies, I can't say for sure. What we do know is that Kassian is a physical player, which was expected since his draft day, and has the potential to contribute.
The Oilers have acquired, yet again, a depth winger, a position that always has plenty of options throughout the season. This doesn't annoy me as much as the perceived notion that the Oilers need a player like Kassian. The team has a history of chasing players described as physical or "gritty", and in my opinion have enough of that ilk already in the lineup including Matt Hendricks, Rob Klinkhammer and Luke Gazdic. If Kassian replaces one of these players in the future, great. But let's not create false narratives about the roster and overlook the actual deficiencies in the lineup.
The acquisition of Kassian is really just a low risk reclamation project that the Oilers have an okay chance of benefiting from. The club has basically re-allocated money to an asset that can create competition and push for an NHL roster spot. But based on past performance and the type of players already in the lineup and in the prospect pool, I remain skeptical that Kassian stays with the Oilers past this season.