Max Sasson is Working at Growing and Maturing his Two-Way Game in the AHL as a Rookie
Max Sasson has never led a team in scoring but he continues to climb the ranks and is now a top-six contributor in the AHL with the hopes of building his game up enough so that he can make the final jump of his career one day and become a full-time NHL player.
We saw the debut of Sasson last season when he signed out of the NCAA and jumped right into the Abbotsford Canucks lineup. He spent time in the stretch of the regular season as well as the playoffs on a line with AHL veteran Kyle Rau and now NHLer, Nils Höglander.
The trio was excellent together and Sasson adjusted well in his opening baker’s dozen games that he got into last season. Getting a taste of the AHL playoffs greatly assisted Sasson in the offseason. He quickly learned how much bigger and faster the competition is at the AHL level compared to the players he faced in his two years of NCAA hockey with Western Michigan University.
“I've always thought summer training was extremely crucial, but especially now, coming into the first year pro. I saw last year how physical and hard it was, especially in playoffs. Last season helped me know that I'm not playing against 18 and 19-year-olds anymore. There’s grown men out here that are super strong with the grown man strength.”
Sasson had to prepare a bit differently in the summer as he was used to playing 35 games or so in an NCAA season. At the time of writing this in February, Sasson is well over 40 games played when you include Young Stars, preseason and everything he’s done in the AHL as well.
The summer helped Sasson find another level in his game. He looked like a player who wasn’t out of place when he debuted in the AHL last year but this season has taken on the challenge of being a reliable top-six centre who can contribute at both ends of the ice.
Sasson was on a powerhouse NCAA line last season that was the third-highest scoring line in the NCAA. He’s learned a lot about his game in the short time as a pro, but patience has been a key lesson to learn after such a prolific season to close out his NCAA career.
“I think the most important lesson has been just taking what the game gives you,” said Sasson. “In college, I felt like every single time I stepped on the ice, I was going to create a chance or skate to the middle and that's not the reality in this league or the NHL. I’m just taking what is given and when I get space, I can use my instincts to create offence or make a play.”
He added that it can be frustrating at times because there are times when you will go through most of a game without any good looks and then there are some games where you get four good looks on your first two shifts. Patience has been key for Sasson and it’s helping him grow as a young player in the AHL.
Though patience is important, it’s not going to give you all you need at the AHL level. You’ve got to be able to play the game with pace and know where to go when the puck is on your stick. Head coach Jeremy Colliton likes the way that Sasson has been growing his game this season and a lot of that has to do with the pace that Sasson plays with.
“He’s pretty explosive,” said Colliton. “He's able to get separation, win races, create transition chances. He's got really good instincts and hockey sense to take advantage of those situations that his skating puts him in. Last year, he was just trying to survive. It's hard. Your habits and your details have to be so good to survive and he did well. Now it's a new season. He's doing more offensively, being a difference-maker for us, but not losing the details away from the puck and managing the game. That's part of his evolution. That's part of what we're helping him to get through. And I think he's making progress.”
Colliton views Sasson’s decision to develop in the AHL as a great one. Sasson could have gone to the NHL and played in a couple of mean-nothing games last season but instead, he signed an amateur tryout and was able to play in the AHL playoffs.
“There are not many guys who can step right into the NHL and play, it's very few, and guys typically need some time here,” said Colliton. “The guys who come here and have a stretch, it helps them moving forward in their transition into the pro game.”
Sasson is up to 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points in 35 games this season. He spends a lot of post-practice time with Henrik Sedin and Jeff Ulmer as the centres work on faceoffs. Sasson has been good in the faceoff circle this season but his positioning and ability to play in a system is what is giving him success as a centre.
We’ve seen his line often take the matchup role in the AHL. He is typically going up against the opposition’s top forward trios or at least the top-six lines. Sasson has seen a change in his game where puck management is so important. It’s not about making the extra move anymore like it was in college.
He spoke about advancing pucks and continuing to learn to take what the game gives him. At the pro level, you have to realize that sometimes, the best pass is not making a pass at all or that a chip out of your zone forcing a reset from the opposition is much better than the 50/50 chance of sneaking around a defender with possession.
Sasson is learning so much in his rookie season and all of that learning is only going to help him in the long run as he continues to build up his game as a pro.
We couldn’t end this article without talking about Sasson’s love for being in Abbotsford Canucks videos on social media as well.
“They asked me to do the Teddy Bear Toss video and I guess it was a big hit,” said Sasson. “I've never been shy of the camera. Anytime there's something on social media or anything, I love it. My friends and family enjoy seeing that stuff, they love it too. So yeah, I'm always up for something like that.”
When asked about his acting skills, Sasson said that it’s all about not being worried about embarrassing yourself.
For now, the Abbotsford Canucks have a 23-year-old, camera-ready, steady, two-way, top-six AHL centre.
As for the future, I guess we will have to wait and see but Sasson is on the right track and continuing to grow confidence and maturity in his game as a professional.