The Edmonton Oilers are off to a better start this season, out to a 5-3-1 record in the first month of the season. There has been far less controversy surrounding the team so far, as they look to get back to the playoffs following a very disappointing 2017-18 campaign. However, not everyone is feeling the positive effects of the new year. Forward Zack Kassian has been underutilized and unproductive early this season, a continuing trend from last season, and his frustration has boiled over. According to Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman, Kassian requested and has been granted permission to seek a trade to another team. His time in Edmonton could soon be over.
Kassian, 27, is a big, power forward right winger and was once a top NHL prospect. Selected 13th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2009, Kassian was valued not only for his size and physicality, but also his offensive upside after solid production in the OHL. That scoring ability never quite developed and Kassian has made a living in the league – with Buffalo, the Vancouver Canucks, and now Edmonton – as a part-time player used to inject grit and energy into the lineup. That is until 2016-17, when Kassian earned a full-time role with the Oilers, playing in a career-high 79 games, finishing among the top forwards in hits, and contributing 24 points as well.
There was no turning back after that, as Kassian was convinced he had proven himself to be an NHL starter. Rumors of his dissatisfaction began last season, when Kassian saw his ice time slip, unsurprisingly along with his performance. However, the situation has come to a head this year, as Kassian has been a healthy scratch for a third of the Oilers’ games, has skated under ten minutes per night on average, and has been held scoreless to boot. This may simply be the new reality for Kassian, who is better suited as a match-up player to be used when toughness is needed or he’s showing flashes of offense, but it will likely take a change of scenery for him to realize that. With plenty of players who could fill a role on the fourth line, Edmonton has little reason not to take what they can for Kassian and rid themselves of two more years of his nearly $2MM cap hit. With mutual interest in a separation, this seems like a situation that will be resolved via trade in short order, although don’t expect much of a return for the Oilers or a breakout for Kassian with his new team.