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:
- 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
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.
#23. Cole Cassels
Preseason ranking: Unranked
Age: 22 – Position: Centre – Shoots: Left – Height: – 6’0″ – Weight: 179 lbs
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.