COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Not since Ryan Miller's first game in 2002 has a Buffalo player's NHL debut been so anticipated. If anyone thinks the fans are excited about Zack Kassian playing tonight, they should see Kassian.
The big right winger was full of smiles and hearty, tight-gripped handshakes this morning while getting ready to premiere against Columbus. He was one of the first players on the ice for the morning skate in Nationwide Arena, and he's ready to return to the rink tonight to face the Blue Jackets.
"You dream about this since you were a little kid. To finally have it come true, I’m very excited,'' said the 20-year-old. "My first NHL game, I’m going to try to have as much fun as I can and not put too much pressure on myself and just play hockey."
Folks in Sabreland have been waiting to watch Kassian since the team selected him 12th overall in the 2009 draft. The 6-foot-3, 228-pounder has the rare combination of skill and a physical presence. He had seven goals and 14 points in 18 games with Rochester.
"He’s played well," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "Offensively, he’s got it going pretty good down in Rochester. He can really hang on to pucks. He might be as strong a player as we’ve got. He’s a big man."
Kassian will start the game alongside center Luke Adam and left wing Matt Ellis. Kassian and Adam spent much of training camp and all of the Traverse City prospects tournament together.
"When I got sent down I just wanted to work my butt off down there and try to play as best as I can and hopefully get the call," Kassian said. "The call came. Now it’s time for me to show what I’ve got."