Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella is in a quandary.
Though his team is performing well, currently riding a five game win streak, he can’t seem to find anyone to line up next to two of his best players, Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The twins currently lack a winger to play with them, and because of that the combo isn’t producing as well as you would hope. Due to either injuries (Alex Burrows) or other top lines playing well (Ryan Kessler-Mike Santorelli-Chris Higgins), his options of a third man on the line are limited.
There are a few voices among the Canucks fan base that would like to suggest third year player Zack Kassian as a worthy candidate. However, Tortorella answered those recommendations the only way he knows how; taking a shot at the player.
“I’m not ready to put Zack in those situations where I am playing that line against probably the top two lines on the opposing team,” Tortorella said. “We’re still in the process of trying to get Zack to process the game, not only with the puck but away from the puck. So that’s where I’m at there.
“It’s tough when you have to worry about pucks going in the back of your net when players just aren’t ready to read those situations.”
Now, to be fair, this is hardly Tortorella at his most critical. He didn’t flat out say Kassian “stinks,” as he did last year when referring to New York Rangers forward Carl Hagelin. In a way, the Canucks bench boss simply stated he doesn’t trust Kassian to play on a top six line. Subtle, yes, but not exactly a ringing endorsement either. He essentially said the idea of putting Kassian up with the Sedins means he’d have to worry about his team getting scored on.
Kassian definitely isn’t immune to criticism. In 27 games played, he has a paltry six points to his name, though most are due to his five goals. His plus/minus is currently at -4, which doesn’t scream “top line material.”
At the same time, the Sedins do have a tendency to bring better performances out of their line-mate, typically due to their undeniable on-ice chemistry. It might be worth at least trying Kassian out on their line for a game or two to see if any potential is there.
However, during a five game streak, Tortorella probably isn’t in the mood for experimenting. Vancouver is clinging to the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference, currently tied with the Minnesota Wild. Though eight points separate them from the 10th place Dallas Stars, its hardly a situation that would suggest rocking the boat.
Kassian may get his chance later in the year. Right now, though, it sounds like his coach wants him to keep learning and developing a level of trust required from a top six forward.