Newcomer Zach Kassian has had a direct impact on the physicality of the Vancouver Canucks.
In the three games (admittedly a small sample size) since Kassian was traded for fan favourite Cody Hodgson, the Canucks have been noticeably more physical.
In the first 63 games of the regular season, or the Hodgson era if you will, the Canucks threw 1,366 hits. This averaged out to a mere 21.7 hits per game, which ranked them in the bottom half of the NHL.
In the last three games, two of which were very playoff-like games against the Blues and Coyotes, the Canucks have thrown 91 hits, or roughly 30.3 hits a game, almost a 40 percent increase.
Kassian himself has thrown 16 hits in this period, but other Canucks are stepping up to finish their checks as well. Maxim Lapierre had an incredible 10 hits in the March 1st game against the St Louis Blues.
Is it a coincidence that Lapierre and Kassian were linemates in that game?
Players feed off of physical play and big hits by their team, especially when the fans get into it as well. This is why high-energy players like Kassian (who has definitely been looking for, and finding opportunities to level opposing players) remain in such high favor with their teammates and fans.
The other, more indirect impact Kassian has had on the ice is being a deterrent. Kassian is a hulking 6'3" 225-pound winger with a reputation of being a heavyweight when the gloves are off.
Yes, the Canucks are fighting more this year (currently seventh in the NHL with 34 fighting majors), but they didn't have a heavyweight.
Lapierre and Dale Weise are willing combatants with seven fights each, but they are lightweights who frankly don't win very often.
Kevin Bieksa (three fights this year) can take on pretty much anyone in a middleweight bout, but as a top defender has to pick his spots to make sure the other team doesn't come out ahead.
Kassian is big enough, and he has enough experience to pretty much win any fight.
In fact, it appeared that he challenged several players during the St. Louis game, and no Blues player wanted to go with him. There also appear to be less liberties taken with Canucks players after the whistle as well.
Having that sort of heavyweight deterrent makes the other players on the roster play a little bigger, and look for the hits a little more often as well.
Knowing that you aren't going to have to deal directly with an enforcer after a clean hit, or that you at least have a teammate that can exact retribution in return, is a nice feeling for a player to have.
It's a feeling the Canucks players haven't had in a long time, going back to the Brian Burke era in Vancouver.
This kind of impact was what general manager Mike Gillis was hoping for when he dropped a bombshell on Vancouver fans and traded fan-favorite Cody Hodgson.
If the Kassian effect continues to strengthen the team's physical play, then this trade may be much less of a risk than Vancouver fans first feared.
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