Perhaps one of the most once-loved yet most now-forgotten prospects in the Canucks organization (and the one this blog borrows its name from) is Cole Cassels.
As the son of former Canuck Andrew Cassels, there were levelled expectations when Cole was drafted in the 3rd round in the 2013 draft. A strong two-way centreman who could shut down the rush or contribute offensively with a ton of heart to boot? Sounds like a great player in juniors, but he may or may not make it to the NHL.
However, after an amazingly strong showing from Cassels in the 2015 OHL Playoffs, shutting down McDavid and leading his team to the Memorial Cup Championship, some were lauding him as the next great shutdown centre or even comparing him to Ryan Kesler.
While Cassels took a heavy beating in the playoffs that year, and took some time to recover from the injury, it didn’t stop him from putting in hard work. A Vancouver Sun article from last September noted him as saying, “I gave it all I could last year and worked my hardest. They knew that I couldn’t perform the way I wanted to or like most people thought I could. But most people go through that in a career and I was lucky enough to do it when I was young.”
In the 2015-16 season, Cassels notched a modest two goals and five assists for seven points in 67 games. This season, he’s improved his offense to five goals and five assists for 10 points in 52 games – on a worse team, even. And while they’re different players in different positions, fellow Comets teammate and Canucks prospect Jake Virtanen has put up a 6-8-14 record in 50 games.
So what changed? Cole Cassels is finally healthy, for one thing. After a year recovering from injuries and a struggle to adjust to the pro game because of them, he can finally focus on hockey. His character and ability certainly play a huge role as well: the aforementioned Sun article goes on to show his diligence towards hockey and Curtis Joe of EliteProspects notes him to be a Swiss Army knife of players.
However, even with the Canucks’ lack of center depth for the future, it still might be some time before Cassels reaches the NHL. Henrik Sedin will remain the team leader for at least the next season, while Bo Horvat is preparing to take over the reins. Brandon Sutter remains the team’s 3C. In the prospect pool, Adam Gaudette has exploded offensively, and will look to go pro in the next couple years, and Allsvenskan star and new acquisition Jonathan Dahlén can play down the middle as well. This isn’t even bringing the draft into the conversation, where the Canucks could select anyone from Nico Hischier to Nolan Patrick to Casey Middlestadt or Elias Pettersson.
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel: Cassels is absolutely a good prospect with a bright future ahead. He works hard on the ice, and is willing to take one for the team if need be. As long as he keeps improving, we could see him in a Canucks uniform in a year or two.