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Photo Credit: LIndsay A. Mogle / Utica Comets

Behold the Resurgence of… Cole Cassels?!

There’s no way around it: the Comets have been absolutely decimated by injuries this season, particularly along the forward group. During their Saturday game against Binghamton, they dressed five players (four forwards) on professional try-out contracts, and as recently as three weeks ago they were playing with nine try-out players in the lineup, with two defencemen playing as forwards.

They’ve nursed injuries to the likes of Darren Archibald, Jayson Megna, Griffen Molino, Carter Bancks, Wacey Hamilton, Joseph LaBate, Alexis D’Aoust, and Cam Darcy essentially all at the same time, and all while Nikolay Goldobin, Reid Boucher, and Michael Chaput were up in Vancouver.

As devastating as that list is, it has provided opportunities for some players that have otherwise been further down the lineup. One of those players is Cole Cassels.

Cassels has become an interesting story, not necessarily for the right reasons. This is a guy that came to Utica two and half years ago to a good amount of fan fare and expectations, only to figuratively fall flat on his face, though not without good reason. There were injury problems stemming from an abdominal injury he played with in the OHL playoffs, and then there were mental hurdles that came alongside the struggles he was having on the ice.

Cassels accumulated just two goals and seven points in 67 games that first season. His first professional goal didn’t come until his 22nd game of the season, and the drought became so notable that we published an article when he finally potted one.

Following the campaign, much was made about why Cassels struggled so much. He worked diligently in the off-season to prepare himself for training camp (something he’d been unable to do the previous summer due to his injury recovery), intent on becoming a more essential member of the Comets. Unfortunately, his sophomore season didn’t go too much better, tallying five goals and 11 points in 66 games.

At this point, Cassels essentially became a write-off as a prospect. It was a precipitous fall from grace for a young player that many fans hoped would appear in the NHL in 2015-16 after his stellar final season in junior, or even make the Canucks out of camp.

Ironically, in 2017-18, he did stick with the Canucks out of training camp, though only because he was nursing an injury and was being treated in Vancouver. Once he was well, he was reassigned to Utica to start yet another season behind the 8-ball. He made his season debut in Utica’s sixth game, in the familiar position of centering the Comets’ fourth line.

The first 18 games of his season went largely as the past two years had gone: unproductive. Though he’d become a reliable defensive player, a high leverage faceoff man, and an essential member of the penalty kill, Cassels continued to struggle to produce.

Until December 13th that is.

In early December, the Comets already burgeoning injury problem was exacerbated when Michael Chaput and Nikolay Goldobin were called up to the NHL. Already missing Darren Archibald to a fractured cheekbone, the Comets were missing half their top six, meaning that other players started getting more ice time. Chaput briefly reappeared in mid-December, but was called up again after Christmas. It was on December 29th that Cassels became the Comets first line center.

On TSN 1040 with Halford and Brough on Thursday, Comets coach Trent Cull was asked what he attributed Cassels’ success of late to, and the answer was no surprise: it’s all about the opportunity.

“We [talked] about injuries and callups. With that, the opportunity came and Cole has taken that and done a really good job,” Cull said. “He’s turned into kind of our number one center, but he’s done a really good job of moving pucks, he’s had opportunity in all situations, and special teams, and he’s done a really good job for us.

“Sometimes as a coach, there’s always that player that says ‘I need more ice time’ and I’ll say ‘you gotta work harder to get more ice time’ or ‘there’s certain things you can do’,” Cull added. “Well you know what, it’s been a perfect relationship here because he’s done a really good job, he’s stepped in, and we’ve kept him in that position. He’s been playing with Michael Carcone and Darren Archibald, and those guys are doing a really good job for us right now.”

Cassels and Carcone, in particular, have been magic together for the past couple of months. They’ve been essentially glued together since the 25th of November, playing with a variety of wingers and in several different roles. Through much of the final month of 2017, they’d played in a bottom six role with Griffen Molino, or sometimes with Wacey Hamilton or Alexis D’Aoust. When Darren Archibald returned to the lineup, he, Cassels and Carcone suddenly became the first line, with their previous top line (Goldobin, Boucher and Chaput) entirely up in Vancouver.

As a side note, Michael Carcone has been extremely impressive lately (just look at that spin-o-rama. Look at it!) and, still at just 21-years old, could earn himself an NHL look at some point in the not too distant future.

The three have had such success together that, as Cull mentioned in the interview, they were kept together and in an offensive role even as some players return from the NHL. Now, you can quibble whether Cassels’ unit or Cam Darcy’s line with Goldobin and Boucher is the top line, but both are clearly entrenched in the top six and get plenty of offensive opportunities.

As a result, Cassels’ contributions to his team’s offence have been steadily increasing over the course of the season, and he is now an integral part of the Comets offence on a  night-to-night basis.

So where does this leave Cassels in terms of future projection?

Well, that’s a complicated question. The thing is, projection models like pGPS are typically designed to look at the season as a whole and evaluate from there. Across the entire season, his 15 points in 34 games doesn’t move the needle a whole lot. We’re looking at a point per game rate of 0.43, which, for a 22-year old in the American League, is still a bit of a long shot to advance to the next level. His Expected Likelihood of Success is just 11%, only a marginal improvement from his previous seasons in the AHL, and his comparables are prominently fourth line and replacement level players.

But what happens when a player’s season is split in two very distinct halves? I didn’t have any type of formula to determine what a player’s likelihood of success would be at a variety of production rates, so, inspired by Cole Cassels, I decided to build one.

What I ended up with is what I’m calling a Cohort Production Spectrum. This chart details Expected Likelihoods of Success across a spectrum of production rates.

There’s a lot going on here, so I’ll break it down. Unadjusted points per game are plotted along the x-axis – this is used because raw points per game are easy to comprehend. The projection system still uses era and age-adjusted scoring rates, but it’s easier to get the point across plotting the chart this way.

What I’ve done next is taken all of Cassels’ potential matches based on age and size (roughly +/- six months and +/- two inches) to create a sample population, and then using that sample I’ve created a series of production points based on percentiles of the sample. The first ten are every percentiles from the the lowest percentile to the 90th percentile; the next five are each percentile from the 95th to the 99th, and finally one at 0.995. I then established the various production rates or percentages at each of those percentiles. Then I used those production values, in conjunction with Cassels’ age and size values, to determine pGPS results at each percentile. All of this can be seen in the table below.

The blue lines in the Spectrum graph represent cohort size (light blue) and successful matches with 200 or more NHL games played (dark blue). The red line is the Expected Likelihood of Success, with markers and data labels indicating percentages at each percentile.

The green line on the graph indicates Cassels’ current production rate (0.43), intercepts the XLS% line at just over 11%, approximately Cassels’ projection at this point.

(Note: this won’t match up perfectly with Cassels’ current pGPS percentage, because the percentiles are even across all production factors, while a players will vary, i.e. he may be in the 35th percentile for points per game, but the 45th percentile for assists per game. But it will still be close to assigned projection.)

The yellow line, labeled ‘target’ is of interest to us in this discussion. It’s marked at 0.86 points per game, which is the equivalent of the 14 points he scored in 16 games between December 13th and January 17th. Now, you can see what his projection would be like if he sustained that production (or any other rate of production) over the course of a season. In this case, it would land at about 35%, which would place him as the fourth most likely measurable Canucks prospect to stick in the NHL, after Goldobin, Olli Juolevi and Kole Lind (not including Elias Pettersson and Jonathan Dahlen, who have no comparables and thus no projections). That would be quite the turn into from the last couple of seasons.

What happens to Cassels next depends on a couple of things. Does his production continue? At this point it seems possible that he could sustain a similar rate as long as he continues to get prime opportunities, both at even strength and on the power play. How do the Canucks value his results in the last month compared to the previous two years of his pro career? Will this hot stretch be enough to warrant him an NHL look? It’s not unlike the hot streak that earned Mike Zalewski a contract and a call up in 2015-16.

With the final year of his Entry Level Contract half over, Cassels is at least building a case for receiving a qualifying offer and an extension in the off-season. If his new found production continues, then maybe the Canucks are tempted to give him a look in the NHL somewhere down the stretch. He kills penalties and he plays the reliable type of game that Travis Green craves. It’s in the realm of possibility that he could give you at least what Nic Dowd gives you at the NHL level.

This is a storyline that we’ll want to watch as the season progresses. Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come.

  • Nuck16

    Love those green unis…when can we see those in Vancouver? They would be amazing with the original logo. The current blues with the current ‘Vancouver’ logos are getting tired. Go back to the original logo permanently, it’s our chance for having ‘classic’ associated with this franchise.

  • Killer Marmot

    With Petterson, Gaudette, Dahlen, Goldobin, Boucher, Gadjovich, and Lind all vying for spots, Cassel’s resurgence may be too little too late.

    But the Canucks may have trouble filling their forward roster spots next season, especially if Vanik and the Sedins are gone. Bad news for the Canucks, good news for prospects.

    • Ser Jaime Lannister

      Bad news? This is great news! How was Vanek doing when he wasnt playing with Boeser? Anyone who plays with Boeser is going to put up points, i could see a few of these guys getting 40 plus points being sheltered like Sedins/Vanek do. Time to move on from these guys and play some fast, aggressive, uptempo hockey that Green preaches in his systems! (Sedins prob come back for one more year anyway)

      • Killer Marmot

        The Canucks would like to ice a semi-competitive team next year. That’s tough to do when you have to introduce five or six new forwards at the start of the season, many of them rookies. The Canucks would prefer to take things more gradually.

      • Killer Marmot

        Cassels must be around ninth or tenth on the forward prospect depth chart. That’s buried pretty deep. Even with a bunch moving up the big show next season, he might never make it to head of the line.

        • Dirty30

          He doesn’t have to make the front of the line. This team needs depth and the more skilled depth there is the better. At some point I’m hoping there will be fewer borderline FA’s signed and more players coming through the system that would allow a Coach to cherry-pick to fill needs.

          I dont know if the Canucks have ever had this kind of depth and development prospects. But its certainly more interesting than Lou-E the $6million dollar vampire sucking the life out of a building every night.

          Cassels will do fine — he’s had some adversity and fallen behind his cohort — it skews his stats as a result — but he’s showing motivation and a resurgence of his skills and could be one to watch.

      • Puck Viking

        Because he wont get an NHL contract. He is not worth the spot. His spot can be used on a college, euro or jr free agent who might one day make the NHL at this point cassels hasnt shown enough.

        Maybe they will sign him to an AHL deal to stay with Utica but he will probably end up in Europe for next season.

    • Ser Jaime Lannister

      Dahlen – Bo – Boeser / Sedins – JV / Loui – Gaudette – Sven / Gaunce – Sutter – Dowd // Tanev – Juolevi / Stetcher – Edler / Pouliot – Hutton/ To me this is the most competitve lineup we could ice next year. Obviously some glaring holes still but were trending upwards (we can debate who youd slide in where) i left goldy out because he hasnt figured out how to play D yet, if you cant play a two way game you dont stand a chance with TG. what do you think of that lineup Killer?

      • Killer Marmot

        I think Petterson will be there in place of Dahlen. Dahlen needs a chance to skate in a men’s league first, and that probably means starting in Utica. I have on clue whether the Sedins will be in the lineup. And you need three more skaters to fill out the 23 man roster.

        I’m not sure what this has to do with Cassels, though, except to demonstrate that his chance may have passed him by.

        • Ser Jaime Lannister

          Was replying to your “semi-competitive lineup” And i dont think Petterson will be, he still needs to get stronger, give him another year to gain some muscle/strength. Easy to plug three more guys in the lineup with those terrible signings of Sam Gagner/MDZ. As far as Cassels…who?

          • argoleas

            Let’s see where Pettersson will be in the fall. I’m generally with you on what he needs to do, but if gets some of that by next camp, I do see a possibility of him being with the Sedins on a line. But again, no need to rush.

  • Rodeobill

    I watched that clip because you were so insistent. Man, what a move by carcone. Also, the comets commentator seems pretty animated. HNIC should hire him to replace that geezer who does some of the games.

    • In this new era of truth and reconciliation, it’s good to remind people that the orca is a culturally misappropriated ripoff of authentic First Nations art. It would be a good gesture to finally dump the orca in an informed manner.

        • That’s a really ignorant response. Did you do any research into cultural appropriation Canadian indigenous peoples before posting? I know they do not like it because it was in the media when it happened. I remember. 0But things like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission didn’t exist back then so being aware of First Nations issues and grievances did not exist. There are movements around the world right now to reclaim their cultural artifacts and symbols. In the process, they’re also reclaiming their dignity and asserting rights that were taken away from them starting hundreds of years ago. For all of those who gave me a thumbs down, that’s your perogative but just go to CBC News and click on the “Indigenous” section so you can read the new stories that really matter if you truly consider yourselves to be “Canadian”. Get out there and get educated, reconciliation is just starting.

          • Killer Marmot

            You don’t speak for indigenous people.

            The symbol most closely resembles the Haida tradition. I have heard no objections from them. In fact, in 2013 the Haida people presented the Canucks organization with a painted panel featuring an Orca, in honour of the team’s symbol. It seems they are proud of it.

            Why don’t you let the Haida defend their own interests rather than you stepping in as their Great White Saviour?

          • Killer Marmot

            Killer – your “colour” is showing through again….

            Yes, I treat indigenous people like adults, fully capable of defending their own interests and in no need of being infantilized by those wanting to burnish their social justice creds.

            So you can keep your smears to yourself , Locust.

      • crofton

        So you’re saying 1. first Nations are against the use of the Orca logo? (if so it’s the first I’ve heard of it)and 2 that it’s not ok to use First Nations artistry to celebrate a West Coast team?

        • Your responses show how far away from reconciliation Canadian society really is. I remember when the orca was first introduced and the uproar from First Nations communities. It’s long since been buried in historical news but if you do a cursory scan of First Nations cultural appropriation news (e.g. Cowichan sweaters, Woodlands-styled art), you’ll find a ton of grievances from Indigenous peoples in Canada. It’s actually not ok what the Canucks did and the inability to understand shows the level of ignorance. I don’t blame anyone for giving me a thumbs down but I highly encourage you to do a bit of reading and realize that making “First Nations” -inspired art without permission and then monetizing it is not ok. It’s a perpetuation of colonialism and in the context of Canada and decolonization, that kind of thing isn’t appropriate.

          • Killer Marmot

            Cultures “appropriate” from each other all of the time. As an example, the Japanese love Beethoven and western-style clothes, and good on them. A rule against not adopting native art forms is completely made-up and arbitrary, and does nothing to help native Canadians.

        • I need to add the right way to deal with First Nations artistry. If the Canucks want to do this right, they need to first collaborate with an appropriate First Nation. They need to ask for permission to use their art. They need to commission a First Nations artist to do the art in the proper cultural way (i.e. actual First Nations designs, not rip-off or knock-offs). Finally, if there are benefits like profit, they need to share those profits with the First Nations collaborators. If they don’t, then it’s inauthentic intellectual property theft.

          • Silverback

            A little late to the party here. It would be a nice gesture by the Canucks to commission a first nations artist design. To call not doing so Intellectual property theft is a reach. A painting style is and cannot be termed “Intellectual property”. The group of seven had a unique style, but artists today painting in those styles wouldn’t be considered rip offs. I think if anything, it pays homage to the artists who popularized the style. Whether you like it or not, West coast art has Infused itself into popular Canadian culture.

        • Gino's 3rd Cousin

          Forever 1915 brings up some good points. And to think I came here to read about the Phoenix Rising that is Cole Cassells. I am a First Nations artist. I have been practicing for over 20 years and the issue of appropriation is massive. Many Indigenous fans will support the Canucks no matter who or what is on the crest. That support would increase if the logo was made by a Native artist. Even more powerful of a statement would be choosing an artist from Squamish, Musqueam or Tseil-Watuth, which is the unceded territory that Vancouver and outlying communities reside upon. The Coast Salish style from these nations is also distinct from the Haida-esque Orca currently used.

          • Killer Marmot, here’s your opportunity to tell a First Nations artist that “a rule against adopting native art forms is completely made-up and arbitrary, and does nothing to help native Canadians.” By the way, the term you should be researching is “ally” and not “Great White Saviour.”

            Puck Viking, here’s your chance to tell a First Nations artist to “get out of here with this nonsense. You’re a goof!”.

  • defenceman factory

    Trent Cull seems to be doing a decent job. Dealing with the plethora of injuries and call ups he has kept the Comets competitive and made strides on player development. If he can get the Comets to the playoffs this year that’s a hell of an accomplishment.

    Trent gets more good young talent next year. Let’s hope he has more defence to work with too.