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2015-16 Montreal Canadiens Season Preview: Zack Kassian

Can the newcomer make a difference in his first year with the club?

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

There are a few new faces poised to crack the Montreal Canadiens roster this year, one of which is Zack Kassian, acquired from the Vancouver Canucks during the off-season.

Kassian, 24, is entering his fifth (third full) NHL season, playing already for his third NHL team. So far his career has been somewhat plagued by a lack of consistency as well as injuries. However, he appears to have proven over the last few seasons that he can definitely contribute offensively at the NHL level.

Because he was acquired (alongside the requisite fifth-round pick) for Brandon Prust, it is tempting to look at him as the latter's replacement. While few will argue that Kassian possesses the same defensive value as Prust, I'd think fewer still would argue that Kassian is not an upgrade on the offensive side. He won't be expected to take the tough minutes that Prust used to, but it seems logical that the coaching staff will expect him to help out with the team's scoring woes.

So far he appears pretty capable of doing exactly that. In a limited pre-season sample, we've already seen him score one pretty nice goal against Chicago, and he didn't look out of place at all with his new team. It's been said time and time again, that the one thing this team needs to get over the hump is to give Carey Price some run support. If Kassian can step in and provide some secondary scoring, that will be a big step towards helping out the Hart Trophy-winning goaltender.

2014-15 Season Review

Last year was not Kassian's best offensively, but his point totals should be taken with a grain of salt, as he ran into some injury trouble and was only able to suit up for 42 games. He did manage to hit the 10-goal mark in those 42 games, and for what it's worth, his best season in that regard was the year before when he scored 14 in 73 games.

2014-15 10-game average Corsi-for percentage with Kassian on the ice (blue line) compared to when he was not (orange line). Score-adjusted five-on-five data from WAR On IceCharts created by Spencer Mann.

For a player often associated with inconsistent scoring, the same cannot really be said for his possession statistics. As the chart above shows, there are not a many peaks and valleys, and I'd say you could call his performance in that regard rather consistent.

Could it be fair to then question whether his inconsistent scoring can be attributed to a lack of shooting luck? Well, through his 42 games last year, his shooting percentage was a career high 18.4%, so that doesn't seem to be it. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why he's viewed as inconsistent, because his overall numbers seem to be pretty good.

Clocking around 12 minutes per game, he was able to put up an average of 1.08 goals and 1.8 points per 60 minutes played. These numbers are respectable, so again, why does the inconsistency label seem to be super-glued to his forehead? I offer that the simplest explanation goes right back to his injury problems. Most players not named Max Pacioretty can find trouble getting back into their groove after stretches, and I'd argue that this seems to be the problem for Kassian.

2015-16 Season Preview

There is a general expectation that Kassian will be relied upon as a guy to boost the Canadiens scoring, but will he be able to do just that?

Kassian 2015-16 Marcel projection

2015-16 Marcel statistical projection courtesy of Domenic Galamini | Calculation procedure

Naturally, a drop in shooting percentage, and the reduction in goals and points per 60 that will bring, is expectable. The funny thing about those projected declines is that when you look at Kassian's career shooting percentage numbers, he has consistently trended upwards from year to year. I wouldn't expect him to stay at or above 18 percent, but it's not impossible given the numbers he's put up throughout his career.

Where exactly Kassian will line up with the Canadiens is an interesting debate, and will have a big impact on what he can bring to the table. Putting him on the fourth line would have him skating against decidedly lesser competition for the most part, and that could be a great situation for him, as long as the line is at least somewhat zonally sheltered, a situation he mostly found himself in while playing in Vancouver.

The number one question surrounding Kassian is, again, whether he can stay healthy. He may be a bit of a streaky scorer, but when he's 'on' he has quite the nose for the net. As long as he can avoid the injury bug this year, he has what it takes to be a major contributor to the Canadiens.