New Guys On The Block

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Pahlsson-Kassian-Gragnani

Vancouver, meet Zack, Sami, and Marc-Andre. Men, meet the Canucks fans.

Mike Gillis and company made a couple of big moves before the NHL’s Trade Deadline acquiring winger Zack Kassian and defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani from the Buffalo Sabres while centre Samuel Pahlsson comes to Vancouver from Columbus.

In the process, they traded away Cody Hodgson, Alexander Sulzer, minor leaguer Taylor Ellington and two fourth round draft picks (their own and the Islanders, which was acquired when they traded Ehrhoff’s negotiation rights last year).

With Pahlsson and Kassian likely to draw into the line-up as soon as the Canucks’ game Tuesday in Phoenix, and Gragnani a possibility, VanCity Buzz introduces you to each player and has the lowdown on what they bring to your Vancouver Canucks.

Samuel Pahlsson – Centre

Age: 34
Shoots: Left
Height: 6-0 Weight: 202lbs
Place of Birth: Ange, Sweden
Accolades: Olympic Gold Medal in Torino 2006; Nominated for ’06-07 Selke Trophy; Stanley Cup Winner ’06-07 with Anaheim Ducks.

Vancouver’s first deal of the day saw them acquire savvy shutdown centre Samuel Pahlsson. Though he’s never been an offensive threat, topping out at 26 points in the 2006-2007 season, he does a great job on the defensive side of the puck and is reliable in the faceoff circle. Those his faceoff numbers have slid in recent years, he’s averaged 52.8% since the ’06-’07 season and his current 51.1% efficiency would be third amongst Manny Malhotra, Ryan Kesler, and Henrik Sedin. As previously mentioned he was a key component in the Anaheim Ducks lineup that won the Stanley Cup back in 2007 and even got some consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy for his role in shutting down opposing team’s forwards. Though he may be five years removed from his prime, the experience he has from playing in two Stanley Cup finals and 81 playoff games are intangibles the Canucks could sorely use. Look for him to slot in on the 3rd line possibly with Jannik Hansen and new acquisition Zack Kassian (more on him later).

Marc-Andre Gragnani – Defense

Age: 24
Shoots: Left
Height: 6-2 Weight: 201lbs
Place of Birth: Montreal, Quebec
Accolades: 2010-2011 AHL First All-Star Team; 2010-2011 AHL Outstanding Defenseman.

Acquired as part of the deal that sent Cody Hodgson and Alex Sulzer to Buffalo, the inclusion of Gragnani in the deal is not one that should be overlooked. A young, puck-moving defenseman, Buffalo took the long root in bringing Gragnani to the NHL, grooming and letting him spend time in the QJMHL and then the AHL. Despite ammassing 146 points in 220 games in the AHL, Buffalo took their time in developing Gragnani, allowing him to develop and work on the defensive aspect of his game. It all payed off last year when he posted 60 points in 63 games to go along with a +22 rating, en route to being awarded the AHL’s best defenceman. He was rewarded with a starting six position on Buffalo’s squad at the start of this season, but his playing time has slowly dwindled as he became a healthy scratch, leading him to play just 11:15 in two games since January 21st. With so many left-handed defenseman in the Canucks line-up it might be tough for Gragnani to crack the roster initially though Vigneault may slot him into the bottom pairing in place of Rome or Tanev.

Zack Kassian – Right Wing

Age: 21
Shoots: Right
Height: 6-3 Weight: 214lbs
Place of Birth: Windsor, Ontario
Accolades: 2010 Memorial Cup Winner; 2011 World Junior Championship Silver Medalist.

The biggest (no pun intended) player coming to Vancouver came at a heavy price in many fans eyes as they were forced to say goodbye to budding fan favorite Cody Hodgson. While the skill level of Hodgson cannot be contested, fans need not dwell on his loss as the organization has acquired one heck of a player in Zack Kassian. Not since the days of the West Coast Express and Todd Bertuzzi have the Canucks had a player that could fill the hard-to-fill role of power forward. Yes they had Taylor Pyatt and Steve Bernier, but both were massive flops because they each lacked the key ingredients to be a successful power forward, aggressiveness and good hands respectively. Kassian has those skills and much more; he has a great shot, soft-hands and is an aggressive hitter, even going as far as to say he likes sticking up for teammates. He has had some disciplinary issues in the past but as he matures those problems will likely disappear; a good example of this would be Steve Downie, who has learned to control his wild-style of play and become reliable contributing player. Fans may lament the fact we lost a more skilled player in Hodgson, but the reality is, the opportunity to supplant Henrik Sedin or Ryan Kesler as the number one or two centre for the Canucks likely wouldn’t have happened for another 6-7 years, and in that time Hodgson will not have developed properly. You may point to the fact that Hodgson’s abilities added to the Canucks’ identity as skilled team, but that view of the team led to us getting pushed around last postseason. The addition of Kassian means the Canucks add another dimension to the team, enabling the coaching staff to bring a more dynamic approach to the game. A caller on the Team 1040 put it best in saying that having Hodgson on the team was like having a whole bunch of Porsches. Swapping him for Kassian was like trading one of the Porsches for a tractor. However as nice as it is to have all those Porsches, there are going to be times when you need that tractor and with the way the Canucks have been labeled as a ‘weak team’ lately, now might be the time for that tractor to shine.

Images: Zimbio, NHL Snipers, Vancouver Sun

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