Zack Kassian hopes his time with the Chicago Wolves during the NHL lockout serves to round out his game.

Emerging power forward Kassian leads Canucks farm team into Abbotsford

Zack Kassian hopes his time with the Chicago Wolves during the NHL lockout pays dividends in terms of his development.

Vancouver Canucks fans greeted Zack Kassian’s arrival at the trade deadline last spring with howls of protest.

It was no fault of Kassian’s per se; rather, the reaction reflected the fans’ affection for Cody Hodgson, the player sent back to the Buffalo Sabres in the deal.

Canucks supporters had a lot of hope invested in Hodgson, and many were stunned to see the up-and-coming centre swapped for a work in progress – albeit a high-end prospect – like Kassian.

Well, if Kassian ends up earning the affection of Canucks fans, his current sojourn with the Chicago Wolves during the NHL lockout could prove pivotal in his development arc.

With Vancouver last season, the hulking 6’3”, 214-pound right winger was used predominantly in a bottom-six checking role. With the Wolves, the Canucks’ AHL affiliate, he’s playing on a scoring line and in a wider variety of game situations for as long as the lockout persists.

“This is a great league down here,” said Kassian, 21, whose Wolves face the Abbotsford Heat this week in a Friday-Saturday set at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (7 p.m. both nights).

“Getting to play and being in more situations, I think it’ll definitely help my all-around game. I want to improve all aspects of my game. At the NHL level, everyone’s so good at everything.

“I want to try to create more opportunities, whether it’s goal-wise or physically opening up more space for my teammates.”

Kassian began the 2011-12 season, his first full pro campaign, with the AHL’s Rochester Americans, racking up impressive numbers (15 goals and 11 assists in 30 games) before being called up by the Sabres. He posted seven points in 27 NHL contests with Buffalo, and three points in 17 games with the Canucks following the trade.

The Windsor, Ont. native showed up for Wolves training camp this fall seven pounds lighter – a change he attributes mainly to dietary fastidiousness.

“When you’re in junior hockey, you’re getting pizza on the bus after the game, and you’re not always eating the right foods,” he explained. “You definitely want to stay away from those types of things, and I think I did that.

“I think I’m a step quicker now. Being lighter and stronger, there’s nothing bad that can come out of that.”

Kassian, skating on a line with Jordan Schroeder and Bill Sweatt, picked up an assist last weekend as the Wolves opened the regular season with a pair of wins over the Rockford IceHogs.

“So far, we’ve done fairly well together,” he said, assessing his chemistry with the fleet-footed Schroeder and Sweatt. “They can back the D off with their speed, and I can use my big body down low and try to get them the puck.”

The comparisons to Hodgson will surely linger among fans and media, but Kassian doesn’t allow that line of thinking to mentally sidetrack him.

“To be honest, I don’t really care what people think,” he said. “I’m playing for my teammates and myself and my coaches every night, and I don’t really listen to what other people have to say.

“For me, it’s just playing hockey.”

Playing in Abbotsford is a unique road-game scenario for the Wolves, as Canucks fans show up in droves to cheer them on.

“I’m guessing it’ll be a little more exciting to come in there,” Kassian said. “Vancouver is a big hockey town, obviously, and I’m sure there’s a lot of Canucks fans in Abbotsford. I think it’ll be a good, exciting environment.”

ICE CHIPS:

• Kassian is one of a handful of Canucks regulars and top prospects currently plying their trade with the Wolves, along with Schroeder, defencemen Chris Tanev and Kevin Connauton, and goalie Eddie Lack. The Chicago roster also features ex-Heat forward Guillaume Desbiens, who inked a two-way pact with the Canucks in July.

• Kassian and Heat forward Greg Nemisz (currently sidelined with a lower body injury) were junior hockey teammates in 2009-10, winning a Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires.

“We have that respect, and we obviously won a championship together,” Kassian said. “It’ll be nice to see him, but once we’re on the ice, there’s no friends.”

• Canucks alumni Cliff Ronning and Geoff Courtnall will be in attendance at the AESC on Friday, part of the Heat’s “Legends of Hockey” promotion.

Just Posted

Family, friends of Mission murder victim hold protest rally

Group wants convicted murderer Walter Ramsay sent back to a maximum security facility

City cracking down on builder bait-and-switch

Abbotsford upping deposit required from builders of single-family houses

Vancouver Giants earn a weekend sweep against Everett

Langley-based hockey team plays its next game is at home on Friday, Sept. 28, against Seattle.

Krista Cardinal announces bid for Abbotsford school board

Cardinal points to Fraser Health experience listening to and assisting with patient, doctor needs

Abbotsford company among 500 fastest growing in Canada

Valley Carriers keeps spot on Growth 500 list, but drops from 398 last year to 408 this year

Environment Canada confirms Ottawa area hit by two tornadoes Friday

At one point more than 200,000 hydro customers were blacked out

Porsche impounded for going 138 km/hr in 90 zone during charity rally

West Vancouver Police said wet roads and heavy rain made it extra dangerous

B.C. students send books to displaced students of Hornby Island school fire

Maple Ridge elementary school teacher says students learned about acts of kindness

Phase 2 of $1.35B Royal Columbian upgrades won’t be a public-private partnership

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix says it will be a design-build

Trump drains oxygen from Trudeau foreign policy with PM, Freeland bound for UN

A lot has changed since the Liberals came to power in Canada in 2015

B.C. man fined $15,000, barred from trading securities for fraud

Larry Keith Davis used money from an investor to pay personal bills

Emergency crews investigate small sulphuric acid spill in Kootenays

IRM states a small volume of less than one cup and three dime-sized drips were leaked from carrier

Man facing charges after allegedly climbing into police car, spraying fire extinguisher

Vancouver police say the man appeared to be under the influence of drugs

Most Read