The Vancouver Canucks went with familiarity in the third round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. With memories of Andrew Cassel’s three seasons in Vancouver, the Canucks selected his son, Cole Cassels, 84th overall. For the Canucks, who plucked 168 points in 198 games from Andrew, the last time Cole had a place in the organization was as a five-year-old, running around the locker room, playing mini-sticks with Ed Jovanovski, Markus Naslund and Trevor Linden. Oh, how time flies.
After collecting a modest 43 points in 64 games during his draft year, Cole’s point production spiked to 1.19 PPG in his 19-year-old season. Then, in 2014-15, he was living the dream every CHL player strived for. He put up 81 points in 54 regular-season games, dominated the OHL playoffs, played a crucial role in his team winning the Memorial Cup, and was also named Oshawa’s Most Valuable Player. Most importantly, Cassels solidified himself as one of the Canucks’ top prospects. High expectations were placed on the 3rd-round pick that shut down Connor McDavid, but what went wrong in his first season with Utica?
Cassels suffered an abdominal injury midway through the 2014-15 season, and he battled through it until the end of the Memorial Cup. Most of his summer was spent on rehabilitation, therefore training and off-ice development were limited.
Cole Cassels on his injury (July 2015): “I knew it wasn’t getting worse, it was just how much I could keep up with the pain. It’s worth it to win a Memorial Cup. It just kept nagging and it kept up right through the Memorial Cup. I was putting a lot of icing on it. I could feel it the most doing one-timers. When I’d step on the ice after a couple days off, I could feel it. But once I got moving around, it wasn’t that bad.”
Jumping ahead to the first few months of Cassels’ first professional season, he managed just 2 points by the end of December. He continued to struggle, finishing the season with just 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists) in 68 games. It’s easy to say that he fell far short of the expectations of Canucks fans, himself, as well as his head coach. Travis Green recently spoke about Cassels and his struggles during his first season in Utica.
Travis Green on Cassels’ season: “I hate when you head that a player has to be so much better next year. For me, Cole had one of those years. I didn’t grind on him and I didn’t yell at him a lot or be overly hard on him. He had a year where he was just trying to stay afloat. He gave us everything he had. We were very direct at our meetings at the end of the year because in the past, he didn’t commit as much off the ice as he should have.”
Ben Kuzma: “Travis Green thought Cassels physically wasn’t there and didn’t handle it very well mentally.” #Canucks
— Canucks Now (@CanucksNow) April 23, 2016
It should not be used as an excuse, but the jump from the OHL to AHL is not easy. Players are bigger, older, more skilled, and have more experience. Add in the fact that his summer was spent on rehabilitation, Cassels certainly fell behind his peers. We will never know what specifically went wrong behind-the-scenes, but his disappointing season should provide plenty of motivation throughout the off-season.
Travis Green: “He needs to become faster and stronger, and with that he’ll have more confidence and be more like the player the organization envisions him to be, and not in a position where every night is a struggle. It’s a tough league for young guys, but if they’re willing to work and not take shortcuts, I’m more lenient. Cole never complained about his ice time, and that goes a long way with a coach.”
It is worth noting that Cassels is a late bloomer. He averaged just 0.17 PPG in his first OHL season, and did not become a point-per-game player until his third year with Oshawa. With the departure of Alex Friesen, this upcoming season will present Cassels with the opportunity to make his comeback. He definitely has the potential to be an impact player, as exemplified during his Memorial Cup-winning season just one year ago. Professional sports is bound to have its highs and lows, and having a father who is an NHL veteran should help Cassels’ resurgence, both physically and mentally. At just 21 years-old, there is still plenty of time for development.
Craig Button on Cole Cassels: “Players mature at different rates. There’s nothing wrong with him. He’s still smart, he can still play.”
— Canucks Now (@CanucksNow) February 18, 2016