“He’s big, tough, skilled, hostile and belligerent. Naw, I don’t like him,” said Burke with tongue firmly tucked in cheek. “Why would I want a player like that?”
Indeed, if there’s a player in this Friday’s NHL entry draft who would appear to be exactly the kind of athlete Burke is looking for as he rebuilds the Maple Leafs, it would be Kassian, the nasty piece of business who patrolled the wing for ex-Leaf Ken McRae’s Peterborough Petes this past season.
Even better, Kassian is a pug with a scorer’s touch, a personality and a quick wit. He said he hasn’t bothered to take boxing lessons or instruction in martial arts like many hockey players.
“Nothin’,” he said.
“I just throw punches and try not to get hit too often.”
Asked if he has a suit for the draft, he said, “Oh yeah, I’m gonna look good.”
Kassian grew up in Lasalle, Ont., near Windsor, lost his dad at age 12 and idolizes his older brother, Mike, who keeps him on the straight-and-narrow. His mother cleans homes and his stepfather is an Ontario Provincial Police officer.
“I’ve had people say I’m a Burke-type player,” he said yesterday in an interview. “What does that mean? Well, I’m a big guy, physical, but I can play and I don’t mind fighting. That separates me from most guys in the draft. I wouldn’t be who I am if I just tried to score goals.”
Kassian laughed yesterday when he told of his first hockey fight during a bantam line brawl between his Windsor Jr. Spitfires and the Waterloo Wolves.
“It was just a mess. Guys got their teeth knocked out and there was blood everywhere,” he said.
“It was pretty fun.”
Back when I hoped the Kings would finish higher — and thus land a pick in the teens somewhere — Kassian was my favorite likely King pick. Now he’s gonna play for someone else. Too bad. But maybe DL will trade for a second 1st round pick. I know, ha ha.