Perhaps no Vancouver Canucks prospect has seen their stock increase as quickly and substantially as Oshawa Generals centreman Cole Cassels has this year. When Vancouver selected Cole Cassels with the 85th overall pick in the 2013 draft, the hope was undoubtedly that he would develop the way he has over the past two seasons.
The 6-foot-1 two-way center has improved his game each year, and played a central role in helping his Oshawa Generals win the 2015 Memorial Cup. Perhaps the high water mark in his OHL career was the playoff matchup against Connor McDavid, where he helped to hold McDavid to 7 points over a 5 game playoff series, helping his Generals advance. Rhys Jessop had this to say at the time:
Hard-matched against Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters, Cassels had his signature series. While he really didn’t shut down McDavid at all, he simply shot the lights out by producing five more points than the Otters offensive phenom over the series, finishing off Erie in five games. In total, Cassels scored 4 goals and 8 assists, including 4 assists in the series-closing game 5, and finished second in OHL playoff scoring behind only McDavid.
In terms of his skill set Cassels is a bit of a jack of all trades. He’s definitely not an elite talent, but he’s strong defensively, with good vision and playmaking, and a pretty nasty wrist shot. He also has a well developed physical game, which bodes well for him given he likely projects to be a 3rd or 4th line center at the NHL level.
In terms of his progression, we can see from his PCS curve that he’s improved his game each year:
Part of this progression is due to him playing a larger role in the Generals offense then he did in his draft year. The 2012-13 Generals team team boasted Boone Jenner, Scott Laughton, and Andy Andreoff at centre, so it comes as no surprise that Cassels was pushed a little further down their depth chart at a 17 year-old. With the graduation of Jenner in 2013 and then Laughton n 2014, the Generals have become Cassels and Dal Colle’s team, and they combined to power one of the most potent offenses in the OHL last year.
Cassels played much of the year at even strength with Bradley Latour and Calgary Flames prospect Hunter Smith, however, it was the power play where Cassels truly feasted playing along side Dal Colle. According to CHLstats.com, Cassels scored only 39 of his 81 points at even strength, so the impact of playing alongside an elite offensive CHLer like Dal Colle on the power play shouldn’t be understated.
OHL Scout and friend of the blog, Todd Cordell, had this to say about Cassels:
Cole Cassels is a very smart two-way forward. He is positionally sound and almost never loses his defensive assignments. He’s very effective while killing penalties and is a guy you want on the ice defending the lead. Offensively he’s a good passer and I feel his playmaking ability is a little underrated. He sees the ice well and seems to think the game a step or two ahead of most players. He’s not a dynamic player, though, and I don’t think he’ll ever be a big point producer at the NHL level. I think he could become a 3rd liner that can chip in offensively here and there and play on the PK.
As it stands now, almost one-in-four of Cassels’ PCS comparables went on to successful NHL careers, averaging the equivalent of 37 points a year, which means he likely has third line upside. I expect he’ll be given every shot to be successful, especially given Benning’s affection for hard working players with a physical edge.
Cassels will join a number of players making their AHL debut this season in Utica. Travis Green is known to keep prospects on a fairly short leash, but given Cassel’s relatively well developed defensive game, it will be interesting to see if he’s afforded more playing time in his AHL rookie year than we’ve seen with other prospects.
There is a lot of excitement around Cassels in Vancouver, particularly because of his strong Memorial Cup playoffs and his (totally unfair) reputation as a Connor McDavid stopper. His progress since the draft has been extremely impressive, and he’ll be one of the better stories to watch this year in Utica.