Zack Kassian’s season has been marred by an off-ice incident that resulted in him entering the league’s substance abuse program after breaking his foot and nose in an early morning car crash before the season began. But after being cleared to return to action and being dealt to the Edmonton Oilers, Kassian is set to make his season debut Thursday.
Kassian, 24, was called up by the Oilers Wednesday from the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors and, in practice, skated on a line with Anton Lander and Nail Yakupov. Following practice, he confirmed that he would be getting into the lineup and playing an NHL game for the first time since March 14.
“I’m excited to be back in the NHL,” Kassian said. “It’s what we dream about. It almost slipped away and I couldn’t be more happy to get another chance.”
That chance comes after just a short stint in the AHL. In four games with the Condors, Kassian registered one goal, nine shots and picked up six penalty minutes. Kassian said he didn't go to the AHL with a timeline for his NHL return in mind.
“I gave myself no expectations as to when I was going to get called up,” Kassian said. “I went down to Bakersfield, got into some practices, got into some games and just wanted to go down there, get my feet under me and work hard every day. That’s what I did, and I couldn’t be more happy to join the team right now.”
Kassian joining the Oilers does come before many expected the winger would get his next shot in the NHL, and Oilers coach Todd McLellan said that he’s not sure Kassian would be in the lineup were Edmonton on a winning streak or not missing players from their lineup.
“The situation we’re in, we’re trying to get better,” McLellan said. “We think he has size, strength and some abrasiveness to his game, but he also has puck skills. Those are things we’re looking for as a team right now. Perhaps he can provide that earlier than we thought he might.”
Kassian has scored 35 goals and 66 points in 198 games over his career and has racked up 307 penalty minutes. Kassian’s best season came in 2013-14 when he notched 14 goals and 29 points with the Vancouver Canucks.