Canucks Army’s 2018 Midterm Prospect Rankings: 24th to 23rd

Getting closer to the top 20 but still far from those players that have Canucks fans excited for the future, it is time to take a closer look at the next couple of prospects.

Down at the bottom of our list, we have a lot of players whose chances at making the NHL are more than slim. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In fact, one of today’s candidates has already appeared in NHL games with the Canucks.

But before we get into this, another reminder on how this list was created. Seven lists, including six from Canucks Army writers (Jeremy Davis, J.D. Burke, Ryan Biech, Jackson McDonald, Vanessa Jang, and myself) plus the reader rankings, were consolidated into one list. The parameters are that each prospect must:

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  • be under the age of 25;
  • have played fewer than 25 NHL games; and
  • be under contract to the Vancouver Canucks or on their reserve (e.g. as an unsigned draft choice).

And off we go – here are prospects No. 23 and 24.

#24: Griffen Molino

Preseason ranking: Unranked

Age: 24 – Position: Centre – Shoots: Left – Height: – 6’0″ – Weight: 185 lbs

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While the Canucks are often criticized for bad asset management and a lack of draft pick acquisitions, they did do their best to get free prospects through free agency. One of those prospects is forward Griffen Molino, whom the Canucks signed out of Western Michigan University at the end of the 2016-17 season.

The Canucks gave him a chance to prove his worth right off the bat, tossing him straight into the NHL lineup to close out the year. At 23 years old, his 33 points in his last NCAA campaign weren’t exactly great, and Molino went without a point in his NHL stint. But, he was a young player who brought some speed to the lineup when there was nothing to be excited about in Vancouver, so fans had some hope for him.

One year later, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if most fans have already forgotten about him.

In 28 games so far with the Utica Comets this season, Molino has just three goals and seven points. His speed can be a treat to watch, but he hasn’t been able to produce much with the puck on his stick.

Yet, it looks like he’s established himself as an AHL player, and there are some comparable players that have gone on to play in the NHL in the past. But with an expected success percentage of 6.1, don’t bet on him to play a big role in the Canucks’ future.

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#23. Cole Cassels

Preseason ranking: Unranked

Age: 22 – Position: Centre – Shoots: Left – Height: – 6’0″ – Weight: 179 lbs

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Cole Cassels is an interesting prospect. Selected in the third round, 85th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft as a two-way centre with some offensive upside, the son of former Canuck Andrew Cassels continuously improved throughout his junior career with the OHL Oshawa Generals. He went from 11 points in 64 games as a rookie to 81 points in 54 games in his final junior season. To cap it off, he helped his team to an OHL championship as well as a Memorial Cup victory.

What got fans excited at the time was that Cassels was hard-matched against Connor McDavid in the Memorial Cup final, and supposedly did an outstanding job shutting the future star down. It’s true that Cassels and his team managed to limit McDavid to just seven points in five games – which was a huge achievement – but possession numbers still indicated that McDavid dominated the Cassels line.

But even though the hype may have been a little much, Cassels was a legitimate NHL prospect.

After that 2014-15 season, Cassels ranked just outside of the top five of CanucksArmy’s prospects ranking. While he wasn’t the biggest or strongest player, he displayed high hockey IQ, played a strong two-way game with playmaking upside, and had a strong wrist shot.

Then came the AHL.

Cassels’ first season as a pro wasn’t what the fans, then-Comets coach Travis Green or Cassels himself had envisioned. The 30-goal scorer from Oshawa finished his first year in the AHL with just two goals and seven points.

With that, Cassels’ expected success percentage immediately dropped by more than half, with his expected points per 82 games – if he makes it – dropping from 39.6 to 20.2.

In 2016-17, Cassels improved only marginally, recording 11 points in a full season. With little success as a scorer at the minor-league level, it was extremely difficult to envision him as a future NHL player.

But with his performance so far in the 2017-18 season, Cassels is bringing back hope – at least a tiny bit.

With injuries to some of Utica’s most important forwards – including the likes of Darren Archibald, Jayson Megna, Wacey Hamilton, and Joseph LaBate – and Michael Chaput, Reid Boucher and Nikolay Goldobin spending time with the Canucks, Cassels got a bigger role in December.

That’s when his production finally went up.

As of today, Cassels has five goals and 20 points in 47 games. That still isn’t great, but he’s at least proving he can make an impact in the AHL when given a chance.

But will he ever make it to the NHL?

It’s still doubtful.

  • I think the 2013 draft is a good cautionary tale about not getting too hyped on depth prospects. I think that was a good draft overall by the Canucks and probably Gillis’s best draft as GM, but a lot of Canucks fans were sure they were looking at future first line centre Bo Horvat (true!), future first line winger Hunter Shinkaruk (probably not going to happen), future 3rd line centre Cole Cassels (probably not going to happen), future second-pairing defenceman and PP specialist Jordan Subban (probably not going to happen) and future 3rd pairing defenceman Anton Cederholm (probably not going to happen). All those players were good bets at the positions they were taken, all of them with the exception of Shinkaruk who was injured had strong D+1 seasons, and everyone was feeling great.

    Of that whole batch of strong prospects, only Horvat has become a regular NHLer. Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched.

    • apr

      Crazy talk. Petterson, Lind, Gadjovich, Dipietro, Rathbone, and Palmu will all be all stars! There is a reason why GMs and scouts across the board say you would be lucky to get 2 NHL players on any given draft. You don’t have to look any further than looking at Gillis’ draft years, or all those draft picks after the first overall in Edmonton’s glory years. Its really hard to get a good NHL player beyond the first round, and there are no guarantees in the first round.

    • defenceman factory

      Completely agree it is unwise to assume every prospect works out. The current prospects are much stronger than the list from the 2013 draft but no doubt some will not succeed.

      What I don’t understand is why you would believe Gillis did well in 2013 when nobody turned into anything other than Horvat. We had to give away a #1 goalie to get that pick. I know there were a bunch of Gillis cheerleaders thought it was a good draft but it wasn’t. Why shouldn’t we use hindsight to continue to lambast the pathetic drafting history of Gillis just like is done every day on this site when talking about Benning’s drafting?

      • Fred-65

        I’m neither pro or anti Gillis, but lets stick to the facts
        A) Gillis drafted consistently at the bottom of the order
        B) Gillis tried but was subsequently fired when he tried to start the rebuild by trading Schneider for Horvat
        C) the best Vcr forward draft pick so far was a Gillis pick ….Horvat
        D) the best Vcr Defenseman acquired was a Gillis aquisition … Tanev
        E) the BEST success EVER for VCR was the Gillis team, 2 President trophies, and a game 7 of the SC final.
        F) Luongo by insisting he’d only move to Florida where his wife could oversee his off ice pleasures put Gillis in a terrible position.
        G) Aquaman by hiring Torts as coach put an impossible burden on Gillis

        But apart from that you’re right 🙂

        • TD

          I like Horvat and he is a centre, but you call Horvat at 9 a better draft than Boeser at 23? Boeser will pass Horvat’s top points total in his rookie year and appears to be much more than just a scorer. I think both players are the beginning of the next core, but Boeser at 23 is a way better coup than Horvat at 9, strictly because it was 14 spots later in the draft.

          Benning will benefit from Horvat and Tanev just like Gillis benefitted from inheriting the Sedins, Kesler, Edler et al from the previous regime.

          I think Benning will be long gone before we really know the legacy he will have left for the future.

          • apr

            I think at the end of the day, Gillis will demonstrate a more astute contract negotiator and asset manager, and Benning a drafter. I don’t think Benning could have taken the Nucks over the top, from what Gillis did with Nonis – nor do I believe that Gillis would have been able to manage the draft and NTC’s clauses that engulfed the roster as the team bottomed out.

        • defenceman factory

          other than the fact you have listed mostly opinions and rumours sticking to the facts is good. Isn’t too difficult to create another set of “facts” that show Gillis was gifted a championship team, failed to win the big prize and burned the team to the ground trying.

          My main point is we can look back at the 2013 draft and call it a good draft for Gillis even though the players mostly didn’t turn out. Yet Benning is lambasted here daily for his drafting and the oldest of his picks is just turning 22. Gillis is regularly given a pass for picks and trades that did not turn out by the same fans who roast Benning mercilessly. There were several things Gillis did that were dumb and just got worse with time. Just seems like a double standard.

          • You’re not talking about facts, you’re talking about narratives. They’re different.

            People who give Gillis a pass at drafting generally do so for two reasons: he was strong in other areas of management, with lots of good free agent signings, some decent trades, and excellent contract work, and his teams were cup contenders, so he was drafting at the end of the first round and moving picks for assets, giving him not a lot to work with in most drafts. Gillis’s results for the most part in drafting weren’t good, but they weren’t good for, for the most part, understandable reasons. 2013’s interesting because Gillis had a full slate of picks and made a lot of smart bets, that for a bunch of reasons haven’t turned out.

            Benning, on the other hand, has been very poor with trades and free agent signings and his contract work has otherwise been a mixed bag. His drafting has been decent, with a couple of strong drafts and a couple of weak drafts, a couple of big hits (Boeser, possibly Petterson) and a couple of big misses (Virtanen, possibly Juolevi), but people keep talking him up as some kind of drafting genius. His drafting hasn’t been *that* good, and the rest of his work has been straight-up bad. The mentality behind his drafting has also been all over the place – he seems to make lots of good bets in later rounds, but has made some very poor bets early on.

            There’s a lot of luck involved in drafting, but you seem to be suggesting it’s all random and anyone who criticizes a drafting record is being silly. Luck plays a big role, but making smart bets is important. If Petterson turns into a star and no one else from 2017 turns out, I’ll say the same thing about that draft as I do about 2013 – “Benning made a lot of smart picks, and got unlucky”. And I’ll continue to criticize Benning when he pisses away draft picks on marginal players or prizes size and snarl over actual ability to play the game – those are bad bets.

          • defenceman factory

            Goon you are right these are narratives which was what I was trying to demonstrate in my response to Fred’s so called facts.

            I don’t actually believe Benning or Gillis are particularly good GMs. Neither had a complete enough skill set and neither will ever win a Stanley Cup. No doubt Gillis scores a lot higher on an IQ test. Benning will get another job in hockey after this one. Gillis may never again.

            Gillis was also the president of hockey operations and by definition had a lot more control over the direction on the team. No one but local uninformed media and fans liked the Virtanen pick. Not sure Benning liked it. Calling Joulevi a bust is exactly the kind of double standard I’m talking about. He was a reasonable pick at the time. It was not a reach. Is he 20 years old yet? Some certainly preferred other players and hindsight shows other players have progressed faster but the hindsight on Gillis picks in 2013 isn’t good either.

      • I think 2013 was a decent draft because Gillis made a bunch of picks that had a decent likelihood of turning into NHL players. That only one of them has so far turned into an impact NHLer is, frankly, bad luck. If you flip a coin seven times, sometimes you’re going to land on tales six out of those seven flips. But the process and reasoning that went into making those picks was sound. Plus, Bo’s turned out to be the best player drafted by Gillis.

  • Steamer

    Don’t recall anyone going over a cliff quite the way Cassels did. Comparing him to Carcone or MacEwen shows just how far he has fallen – those guys didn’t see their game utterly disappear – sure hope Cole continues to regain ground – if only for his sake.

    • TD

      I wonder if they will resign him. If you judge his points on the second half of the season, it looks pretty good, but they have limited contracts available. Maybe to an AHL contract if he accepts it.

    • Tedchinook

      You’re right about Carcone and McEwan as compared to Cassels – they are on completely different trajectories as the first two have transformed themselves into legitimate prospects while Cassels is now struggling to keep a professional career going in North America. It underlines the difficulty of drafting 17 year olds.

    • argoleas

      Also need to consider who is going to be in Utica next year (Dahlen, Lind, Gajovich, maybe even Pettersson and Gaudette). Potentially a few current players will be squeezed out. Cassels is a center so that may buy him some time.