Zack Kassian spent time with Rochester in 2011-12. ©2013, Michelene Veluvolu, Rochester Americans

Former Sabres prospect Zack Kassian still trying to establish himself with Canucks

BUFFALO – Twenty months later, there’s no decisive winner in the Cody Hodgson-Zack Kassian deal, the shocker the Sabres and Vancouver Canucks pulled off before the 2012 NHL trade deadline.

Teams rarely swap high first-round picks during their rookie seasons. So the debate might go on for years in the two hockey-mad cities.

“That’s hockey,” Kassian, who will play his first game back in Buffalo tonight at the First Niagara Center, told the Vancouver Province. “People need to talk about something. So be it. I just care about what the team thinks of me. We’re two different players and I wish him the best. I need to worry about my business in Vancouver.

“The only thing I like about it (returning to Buffalo) is it’s in the same time zone as my family, and it’s going to be pretty cool to have them there. There will be at least 20 – I’m still getting texts.”

In Hodgson, the Sabres possess, at least on paper, a No. 1 center. The team recently awarded the 23-year-old a six-year, $25.5 million extension, betting that his drive, maturity and natural talent might make him a star. He has 19 goals and 48 points in 76 games with the Sabres.

Right now, the Sabres have received more from the deal.

But what’s transpired since the Sabres dished the 22-year-old Kassian 27 games into his NHL career? The Sabres hadn’t dealt a first-round pick so early since sending Keith Ballard to Colorado in 2003.

Having been suspended eight games for high-sticking and breaking Sam Gagner’s jaw during the preseason, tonight will only be the hard-hitting winger’s third appearance this season.

Kassian, the 13th overall pick in 2009, has eight goals and 14 points in 58 games with the Canucks. Following a torrid start last season – five goals during a seven-game stretch on the No. 1 line beside Daniel and Henrik Sedin – Kassian has just two scores in his last 37 contests.

“You need to do things out there to be recognized,” said Kassian, who fought Tuesday. “I’m kind of lucky if I’m not scoring goals that I can bring other attributes to the team. You want to put up goals, but at the same time, you need to look where you’re playing. My goal is to create energy and be hard to play against. It will come eventually.”

Kassian, who had several junior suspensions for illegal hits, lost some of that grit and tenacity with Rochester and the Sabres in 2011-12.

Ultimately, that might’ve been why the Sabres dealt one of their prized prospects so quickly.

“They drafted me and gave me a chance to play in the NHL and made my dream come true,” Kassian said about the Sabres. “It’s part of the business and there are very few players on one team their whole career. I love Vancouver and it’s not a bad place to be traded to and to stay.”

Sabres winger Patrick Kaleta will be appealing his 10-game suspension, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

Kaleta consulted with his agent and the NHL Players’ Association following Tuesday’s ban, McKenzie said.

The 27-year-old agitator has already served three games for his illegal check to Jack Johnson’s head in Thursday’s 4-1 loss to Columbus.

Kaleta has been suspended four times since 2009-10 and twice in his last 21 games.

The appeal goes to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman first. Kaleta is still suspended through the appeal process.

Johnson, Kaleta might argue, wasn’t injured from the hit.

Following Monday’s 2-1 home loss to Minnesota, co-captain Steve Ott said Sabres teammates “owe” their goalies, who had “been at the top of their game” with the team winless.

They finally rewarded another strong effort Tuesday, giving Ryan Miller, who made 41 saves, a 4-3 shootout win over the Islanders.

Despite some terrific numbers – a 2.39 goals-against average and .939 save percentage – Miller’s four losses are tied for the NHL lead with Winnipeg’s Ondrej Pavelec. Miller has faced more shots (197) and made more saves (185) than any other netminder.

The Sabres had Wednesday off.

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