A Look at Cole Cassels’ Monster Season

With the Oshawa Generals pushing the Erie Otters to the brink of elimination, the Cole Cassels hype train has kicked into overdrive.

Certainly, Vancouver’s 3rd round pick from Mike Gillis’ final draft has continued to take massive strides forward in his development this season, as he further built on a very positive draft+1 year last year by growing in to the best centreman on one of the OHL’s very best teams. He’s continued his strong play into the OHL final, going blow-for-blow with the most dominant prospect the OHL has seen since Eric Lindros, and with a win tonight, could lead his team to the Memorial Cup in Quebec.

The accolades keep pouring in for Cassels, but is he going to be able to translate this elite two-way game to the NHL, or is he just a product of having a physical advantage over his younger peers and playing on a stacked team? Find out after the jump.

Cassels’ playoffs have been nothing short of spectacular. Playing on a line with Bradley Latour and Hunter Smith, coach D.J. Smith has been hard-matching Cassels against Connor McDavid so far in the first 4 games of the OHL final. It’s been working for the Generals too, as Cassels has held the nearly unstoppable McDavid to 6 points in 4 games – a pedestrian total for the Otters’ juggernaut. In games 1 and 2 when Smith had last change and was able to hard-match Cassels on McDavid even closer, the future Oiler was held to just 1 assist.

Cassels on the other hand has 8 points (4G, 4A) in the series, including the overtime winner in game 4.

So while saying “Cassels has shut down McDavid!” isn’t at all accurate, he’s definitely helped contain junior hockey’s most dominant player better than any other opponent has so far been able to do. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise though, as the Generals played better team defense than almost every other OHL team this season, allowing a league-low 157 goals against. They trailed only North Bay in total shots allowed as well, while generating the most shots on goal in the OHL. Put this together, and you have the junior hockey version of the (recently good) L.A. Kings, and Cole Cassels is their Anze Kopitar.

Cassels has played in all situations for the Generals, being a major contributor to their 4th ranked powerplay and a shutdown ace on their league-best penalty kill, and we can also infer that his two-way game is also legitimately great by CHL standards given Oshawa’s team success and Cassels’ major role. Offensively, Cassels has found another gear this season after developing a legitimately good offensive game in 2013-14, finishing 2nd on the Generals and T-15th in the OHL with 81 points in 54 games.

If there is a concern about Cassels offensive production, it’s that less than half of his total points came at even strength. Looking at even strength scoring rate, Cassels was 33rd in the OHL in ES points per game, and scored just 12 goals all year that weren’t on special teams. This would seem to indicate that most of Cassels’ offensive punch was helped by playing 1st unit powerplay minutes with a legitimately elite offensive CHLer in Michael Dal Colle. Of course, there’s also the fact that Cassels was 19 years old at the start of this season, which plays to his advantage too. Scoring 1.5 points per game like Cassels did this year is impressive, but not nearly as impressive as if someone is scoring at that rate at 17 or 18.

A Canuck that had a similar OHL development path as Cassels was Brad Richardson. Richardson was a point-per-game OHLer in his draft year before missing nearly all of his draft+1 season thanks to an injury. Still, due to some physical maturation and improvement, Richardson exploded for 41 goals and 97 points in 68 games as a 19-year old, leading his Owen Sound Attack in scoring. Linden Vey, who’s nearly identical in stature to Cassels, also followed a similar trajectory. Vey scored at an extremely respectable point-per-game pace as a 17 and 18 year old before erupting for 46 goals and 116 points in 69 games in his draft+2 season, leading the Medicine Hat Tigers to a WHL championship appearance.

Cassels1

The most similar current Canuck though is Shawn Matthias. Like Cassels, Matthias possessed a high-end physical game, and like Cassels, Matthias’ offensive game went from pretty poor to very good by the time he was 19. Of course, none of these stats are adjusted for age and era right now, so we’re limited to looking for approximate similarities. We’ll have a more detailed statistical breakdown of Cassels CHL career in our prospect profiles series which will run later this summer.

It’s also worth pointing out that while Cassels’ season was very impressive, he’s still lagging behind Bo Horvat and Jared McCann’s growth curves, as you would expect from first round picks with high-end middle-6-on-a-good-team upside. Statistically speaking, while Cassels’ growth has been a fantastic positive, the fact remains that he hasn’t grown so much that Vancouver is looking at a future core player. The Canucks are still looking at a probable 3rd or 4th liner, though Cassels’ nastiness, physical game, and reputedly plus-level defensive ability definitely put his ceiling closer to an average middle-6 guy.

Most players that accomplish what Cassels did as a 17-year old don’t even grow into the two-way beast that Cassels is at 19, and it looks probable that the Canucks have a future NHLer on their hands. It’s a testament to how far Cassels has come since scoring just 3 goals as an OHL rookie, and a good sign for the future. Cassels will need to continue to improve and translate his game to the AHL next year if he is going to become an NHL regular, so he’s not out of the woods yet as far as development goes.

But first, Cassels has some unfinished business to take care of. His Generals are one win away from a berth in the Memorial Cup, and one of the best OHLers ever stands directly in his way. You can watch Cassels battle Connor McDavid tonight on Sportsnet ONE and 360 at 4:00 PM Pacific. Our OHL allegiances may be with the Soo Greyhounds on this blog, but for tonight, let’s go Generals!

  • Thefreshpots

    If Cole Cassels can contain a generational talent like McDavid, he can probably develop into a very good bottom-6 centre like Max Lapierre or Brandon Sutter. Either a checking centre who’s scoring touch never really blows you away, but provides great defensive ability or a guy who can pitch in on the scoresheet from a depth role. That seems like pretty good value from a third-round pick.

    • Dirty30

      Pretty good value?

      Considering the jack sh!t value we got outta first rounder Ricky Schroeder I’d say that getting a solid checking centre from a 3rd round draft pick would be hitting the proverbial lottery.

  • Dirty30

    Cole Cassels is having a great season. Some members of the media are calling him McDavid’s kryptonite. The Canucks scouting staff have done a fine job taking him in the third round in 2013. It just goes to show that you don’t necessarily have to pick high every year to find quality players.

    The Utica Comets won game 5 against the OKC Barons. Some of the baby Canucks will be pushing for jobs in the next couple of years. Internal competition is always healthy within the organization. I am still hopeful that Weisbrod and pro scouts will come up with a heist or two every now and then.

  • Dirty30

    Nice to see one of the Canucks third rounders developing his game.

    He’ll never be the offensive force his dad was, but he may bolster the bottom 6 one day.

    Heck, given that the Canucks already have McDavid’s “kryptonite” in their system, the Oilers might as well trade this summer’s No. 1 pick for a big tough defenseman. I’m sure Benning won’t want to part with an up-and-comer like Sbisa, but maybe if his old buddy Chiarelli is persuasive enough and throws in a few cases of beer . . . .

  • Dirty30

    It seems that as the Canucks got worse and worse under Mike Gillis, his ability to draft players with NHL potential seems to have improved. 2013 may prove to be one of the best draft years for the Canucks ever.

  • pheenster

    It’s pretty tough not to get overly excited on prospects like Cassels after big years like the one he has had this year. I can imagine there would have been a lot to get excited about watching Matthias in that 19 y.o. season too. Matthias also played with Beleskey that year, who put up 90 points in 62 games, also as a 19 y.o. And, as this piece mentioned, Richardson lit it up as a 19 y.o. (albeit playing on the same team as the 2nd overall draft pick, Bobby Ryan). And then of course Linden Vey was player of the year in the WHL.

    Matthias’s subpar hockey IQ and lack of vision have clearly held him back – especially as a center.

    Richardson doesn’t really do anything great. His hockey IQ is pretty good I would say, which has allowed him to be good on the PK and have some defensive value (other than this past year).

    Vey clearly needs to get stronger and you’d like to see him engage physically more.

    With Cole Cassels, I really don’t see a glaring weakness in his game that will hold him back from succeeding in the NHL. Of course, when anyone gets to the NHL, the weaknesses in their game become much more apparent. But still, Cassels has tremendous vision, hockey IQ and defensive value. As far as I can tell, his skating seems good and he certainly will have value on the PP and the PK. He isn’t too big but he’s very physical. Potential to be a very good third line center in my opinion.

  • Thefreshpots

    Great graph! Provides good context on evaluating juniors.

    Hopefully Virtanen has a similar increase in production as Linden Vey had in his draft+2 season as they both were point per game players in their draft and draft+1 seasons. In other news, I see Ehlers went from 1.66 points per game in his draft year to 1.96 this season; you’re welcome, Jets fans!

  • Dirty30

    This post offers little-to-no information on usage or QoT/QoC for Cassels or his comparables and is only supported by 1 PPG graph and a few unsupported statements.

    How convenient that the best comparables for Cassels all seem to play for the Canucks…

    Apparently, CA expects their readers to accept whatever they are spoon-fed as fact…

  • andyg

    So you pointed out that he scored half of his points on the PP. Would Cassels not have been pulling the shut down role against the other teams best when 5 on 5?

  • wojohowitz

    I think his father has done all he could to help his son and it really shows. This kid will be ready when the time comes. He might spend a full season in the AHL but he shows the grit necessary to have a NHL career. It might be wrong to consider him a third or fourth line center because he could end up anywhere from first to third. It`s great to see and we will all follow his career (much like Horvat) and hope he reaches his full potential.

  • Rhys,

    Ryan Kesler was also originally only seen as a potential 3rd line checking center when he was drafted, before becoming the star he is now.

    I’m wondering then if you could compare Ryan’s draft +1 year (that was, I believe his first year in the AHL?) and Cole’s draft +1 year in the OHL, in terms of how Cole’s development stacks up against Ryan’s?

    Seeing how Cole’s +1 year in the OHL may have boosted his offensive numbers and Ryan’s may have been reduced given increased levels of competition in the AHL, I would be fascinated to see how their development trajectories line up, e.g. comparing how their point totals would look if they were stacked against each other and the differences in age and competition levels were accounted for.

    Thanks and enjoy the long weekend as well!

    • In Kesler’s draft year, he scored 31 points in 40 games in the NCAA. College hockey is much lower-scoring than Canadian Junior, and Kesler was playing against players up to four years older than him, so that’s very impressive (there was a reason Kesler was a 1st round pick). In Cassels’ draft year he scored 43 points in 64 games – a lower scoring rate (0.67PPG) in an easier league than Kesler’s 0.78 PPG.

      Doing league equivalencies is always tricky but going by Gabe Desjardins’ 0.45 AHLE, Cassels scoring in his Draft +1 year translates to 32 points in 61 games to Kesler’s 11 points in 33 games. In Kesler’s Draft +2 season, though, he scored 57 points in 78 (0.73PPG) games, to Cassels’ AHLE of 36 in 54 (0.67PPG)

      So they’re actually pretty close. However, equivalencies really give you just a general ballpark for how a player might do in another league. And just because Cassels is scoring at a Kesler-like rate now, doesn’t mean he will in five years at the NHL level – he might put up 50 points in the AHL next year and never establish himself at the NHL level. Another player with a very similar development curve to Cassels is Cal O’Reilly, who was a depth pick and scored at a 1.5PPG rate in his Draft+2 season in the OHL. He’s been near PPG in the AHL for years but has never managed to break into the NHL for any extended period of time.

      Odds are much more likely Cassels ends up being more like O’Reilly than Kesler, but you never know.

    • We’ll have more on Cassels and all other Canucks prospects in out Prospect Profiles series that’ll run over the summer. As I noted in the article, this was hardly an exhaustive exploration of Cassels, and there are obviously many more angles we’re going to explore.

  • andyg

    That was very disappointing for what is probable McDavid’s last OHL game. I expected more than a minus 3 and no points.

    Oshawa smelt blood right from the drop of the puck.

    • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

      If jerk puck should indeed return, you’re forgetting Jared McCann. I seem to recall reading an interview with him last summer shortly after the Canucks drafted him where he professed his enjoyment of lacrosse because he “love[s] cross checking kids in the face”.

  • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

    I don’t know what’s more boring, all this talk about Canuck prospects and wannbes or the SC play offs right now.

    #thegameisstaleashellscrewyoubettman

  • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

    Nice to see him play such a key role so well for his Junior club, but Im also in the club of him projecting a bottom 6 player.

    Tanner Pearson was passed over in the draft completely and then taken by the Kings as a first rounder because of his 19 year old season for Barrie. He then spent a year and a half with Manchester recording good numbers, but nothing eye popping. I could see something similar in terms of development timing from Cassels.

    At this point Id say the upside with Cassels is a bottom 6 30 point player that can play with edge and can be used in a shutdown role. Not sure if he remains a center either, but I do see his intangible ability getting him some sort of NHL role, and a player that becomes far more important when the post season comes along.

  • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

    What’s really great is to see prospects playing big in big games. Don’t underestimate being matched up against the best OHL talent in a generation. Having centers like Horvat/MCCann and Cassels only shows a bright future for the young Canucks.

    They will have a chance to learn from class players like the Sedins how to be an NHL player.

          • By your logic, every team not in the final four in an utter failure. The Canucks got over 100 points and made the playoffs, which most didn’t expect.

            Young players will step up and support the older core.

          • andyg

            He is saying what a lot of fans feel. Just making the playoffs year after year will not get you a cup contender. We want a cup!!!!

            At the very least they need to start keeping their top 3 picks. How ever being able to pick in the top 10 once in a while would be nice. Missing the playoffs or trading for it. It is how you aquire first line players that stay for 20 years.

          • Here, here, a man, Andyg who speaks the truth around here, now that is uncommon.

            Not only the game is at a critical point of saturation and boredom but the Canucks it seems are hell bent on executing the same old non plan till they go bust or move out of the city.

            The Canucks clearly won’t sacrifice a season or two in order to build a real contender for the future and now that the franchise is middle aged in human years, has lost both time and credibility. the hole they dug has gotten so deep that no one has a plan nor the will to get out of it.

            You can’t build a winner on the cheap, something this franchise has been trying to do since it came into the league. And I don’t blame the pack mule son that team either, because I sure as heck do not expect old mules to win horse races. You need the right horses and you get them through the draft or trades, neither of which the Canucks seem capable or wanting to do. Development is a taboo word in that franchise.

            There is no soft, easy way to tell someone that they’re 46 years late to the prom dance. But i suspect that with most die hard fans, even getting them to admit that there is a prom dance is just a futile.

            Meanwhile the Oilers have McDavid. It may or may not pan out but hey, I’m sure the Sedins can grow 50 pounds of muscle and turn back father time for next year and score 80 goals. so the question I have for fans is, are they going to go through the next ten years to find players that can bring the cup here for the sedins or are they going to finally man up and rebuild? History says the Canucks are happy with next year of the same.

          • andyg

            They won’t purposely sacrifice a season or two but as last year showed we could miss the playoffs any year going ahead whether they try or not.

            I will never endorse the oilers aproach of tanking forever. The Canucks are developing their own talent. Utica this year shows this. The rebuild has already started and our prospect pool is better than it has been in a long time.

            What I am saying is that missing the playoffs once in a while can speed a rebuild up because you get a chance to aquire front line talent. In years past teams were able to make trades for top 10 picks but with the salary restictions ELC contracts are too important.

            I want management to look at our draft picks as being too valuable to move for a short term fix

          • allsportsfan

            The Nucks haven’t been cheap, they’ve spent near the cap since the cap was brought in. Let’s get some facts straight, we had Bure, Linden, McLean, Mogilny here in 96. Didn’t mean anything to have one of the best goalies plus, one of the best heart and soul guys with arguably 2 of the most talented hockey players to ever play the game up until that time.

            You want to follow the Oilers plan, what a joke! Let’s draft the number one pick and still can’t get out of the basement of the league after a decade! Try to at least follow some teams who are successful.

          • Bure, yes Linden and Mclean were over rated jokes and time has proven that.

            You lost me when you mentioned Mclean and Linden.
            The Oilers problem is that they followed the Canucks plan for so many years, which was that they had NO plan. Now at least the Oilers have a big asset.

            And no, no one want to trade you anything for the Sedins.

            And I would mention a successful team but then I would get the SAME old excuse of ” if winning the cup meant that all the other teams were failures….”

            The Canucks made it all the way tot the play offs this year to lose int he 1st round. The Oilers lost all year to get Mc David. You have to be pretty blind or dumb to think the Canucks won anything this year.

          • pheenster

            And how much money do you contribute to the mystical Cup that you insist the team win, or else be defined as a failure? I’m guessing not one thin dime.

            Aquilini is in the business of making money, not that of feeding the fantasies of hockey bloggers who want to see this team picking on the top three. The fans who are willing to fork out the necessary for season’s tickets (let’s call them the fans that pay the bills, unlike the rest of us) have made it clear that they’re not willing to pay to see lousy hockey. That means they don’t buy season’s tix, don’t buy massively overpriced food and beer, don’t buy $150 jerseys for their kids, none of that.

            So unless you’re willing to pony up the necessary and pitch in for season’s tickets to sit and watch the kind of dreck that Arizona and Buffalo put on the ice for their fans this season, sit down and shut your pie-hole. The Canucks are a business which exists to make money, not fulfill the fantasies of some entitled jerk on the Internet. You’d do well to remember that.

          • “The Canucks are a business which exists to make money, not fulfill the fantasies of some entitled jerk on the Internet. You’d do well to remember that.”

            Then what are you doing here, Cinderella?

            “the fans who are willing to fork out the necessary for season’s tickets (let’s call them the fans that pay the bills, unlike the rest of us) have made it clear that they’re not willing to pay to see lousy hockey.”

            That’s clearly not true pal seeing as we are almost up to 50 years and nothing to show for it except your smarmy comments.

            “So unless you’re willing to pony up the necessary and pitch in for season’s tickets to sit and watch the kind of dreck that Arizona and Buffalo put on the ice for their fans this season, sit down and shut your pie-hole”

            So….you want me to be like the rest of the rubes and pony up my money to see nothing more than a business franchise who’s only interest is making money? That makes alot of sense Trevor. We should all spend our money to make Aqua-man more money because that’s smart. No wonder that you spend all your time here defending a lousy hockey team…ahem… I mean a business.

          • pheenster

            Thanks for illustrating how you totally and completely missed my point. Fact is you don’t contribute any of your money. You’ve probably heard the expression “the customer is always right”. Well, you’re not a customer, son, so your opinion means jack $hit.

            Does Aquilini want a winner? Yes. Does he want one at the expense of missing the playoffs? Not a chance. These are the parameters GMJB has been given to work with, and the rest of us had better get used to it. All this bleating about tanking and top three picks has gotten exceptionally stale.

          • pheenster

            You should also tell your boss Aqualini to take his useless team, stop sucking up BC tax payers money, stop wasting prime property and stop embarrassing every citizen of this province while you’re at it.

            What a joke, 46 years of doing NOTHING and you’re so smart, you want to tell everyone here how smart you are by continuing to support such a loser organization.

            Here’s some advice, angry little man. Instead of being angry at the truth all the time, try to direct some of that anger at the real causes of your grief…namely, a team and so called fans like yourself who hate winning and love defending losing.

            Imagine if the Canucks had the same standards as you do when it comes to winning. Oh wait…. they do!

          • pheenster

            Sonny boy, I’m not the angry one here. That would be you, ace. Of course if I was a fan of a team that has set new benchmarks for ineptitude over the past 10 years, I’d probably be angry too. The fact that it took an undeserved act of god for your owner to hire a real GM and coach is a telling one: apparently up until now Katz has been fine with management stupidity as long as his seats were filled and he got his shiny new arena on taxpayer dime.

            In fact, pretty much everything you’re spewing about Aquilini is actually true of Katz. Funny that.

          • pheenster

            My owner? Who’s my owner, boy? Why do you sorry ass Canuck fans always think that anyone who criticizes you are fans of other sucky Canadian teams Or any other teams for that matter?

            You make me laugh kid. Hey. what’s the difference between a loser who always blames someone else whenever the finger is pointed at thme and a Canuck fan?

            Nothing, that’s what. Hahahaha!

            All the Canadian team suck, boy. And don’t change the subject when someone calls “your” team out.

            Typical Canuck excuses. It’s never your team’s fault, it’s the refs, it’s league’s rules, it’s the salary cap, it’s the Oilers, it’s the Flames, it’s the Habs, everyone else is at fault for 46 years of embarrassing your own province with not one championship.

            Time to Man up , boy.

          • There are sports where if you don;t win anything, you don;t get paid and you don’t eat.

            Given that these multi millionaire country clubbers have a salary before winning anything, live a pampered lifestyle, I don;t think it’s unfair and cruel to expect those bozos to sleep , train and obsess about winning the only prize that counts.

            But then again if you’re satisfied with the status quo year after year, then why play for anything?

            And yes, every team that doesn’t win the trophy did not make expectations. Tennis players do not dream of making it tot he quarter finals or 2nd round, they dream of winning the trophy.

            Why would you or anyone watch paid players to skate around and play on the ice if there was nothing to win? it seems in your lack of standards that you do indeed think that there is nothing to win in the NHL and that first round losses are as good as it gets. After 46 years, don’t you even get tired of it? Even a pretend tired? Something sounds fishy here mate.

            I know if my kid failed the same exam 46 times my wife and I wouldn’t say that ” not passing the exam like all the other kids who failed is ok.” If winning the trophy is not the end all be all in competitive sports, than why even “compete”. But maybe you just like to watch multi millionaires skate around the ice year after year with no purpose.

  • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

    Never forget

    “For Horvat, the most likely route his career takes sees him topping out as a decent 3rd line C, scoring in the mid-40s in points just once or twice, and finishing his career having played for 4 or 5 different teams. Even then, he probably won’t be ready to step into that 3rd line role and be effective for another 3-4 years after this one. Nothing he’s done in junior screams “I’m ready” for full-time NHL duty, and most players spend significant time apprenticing in the AHL anyways.”

    Horvat has broken Rhys. “Average middle-6 guy” is way too positive.

    • The Sedins performed well especially in the playoffs. They needed a finisher on their line and Hanson is not that type of player.

      Horvat earned the right to be a second line center next year. Put a sniper like Vrbata next to him and he could blossom. Bonino is a third line center and Richardson is a fourth line center.

      Horvat showed great possession skills and surprising speed. He could clear out a lot of room for Radim. If Jake V or Shinkaruk can make a jump next year, the Canucks will not be as old as the were.

      • -The Sedins performed well especially in the playoffs. They needed a finisher on their line and Hanson is not that type of player.-

        When you don’t make it out of the first round, you did not play well.

        Your idea of playing well is nothing more than a smoke screen for wasted time again. And next year the Canucks can play ” well” again, well enough to lose in the first round again. Then repeat this till hell freezes over. I started to get cold a long time ago.

        • andyg

          Look every commentator said the Sedins dominated the puck vs the Flames, they lacked the finisher of Vrbata or Burrows. The team played badly…especially the D! Coach Willie made a mistake playing Hanson with them and not playing Lack. A lot of blame to go around, but the Twins played well.

          Canucks trolls will never admit the truth.