Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports
You have to feel for a player in Cole Cassels’ shoes.
Cassels, 21, was highly rated out of junior following some genuine heroics on the Oshawa Generals’ run to the Memorial Cup. Throughout that run Cassels played through a “tricky” abdominal injury and when it was over, he lost a full summer of training prior to turning pro. 
In an effort to get him back up to speed, the Canucks put him on a ‘college schedule’. Cassels was held out of games regularly, his minutes were closely monitored and his production – and the expectations that accumulated as Cassels and the Generals stormed through the CHL – sagged. 
“For a young guy going pro and not playing, it’ll take a toll on you,” Cassels told CanucksArmy.com on Sunday. “But there was never a point where I thought I wasn’t capable. It’s a learning process, you know? It’s a career, it’s not one year. Last year was a year where I learned a lot and I took a lot away from it.”
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Throughout this weekend, Cassels has faced questions about his first-year struggles. When he arrives in Whistler next week for Canucks main camp, it’ll be a similar story. Over and over again, on the record, Cassels will be asked about a disappointing rookie campaign. And all he can do is try his best to forget about it, to focus on what lies ahead.
“The easiest way (to turn the page) is just to forget about it,” Cassels said. “It happened, it’s over with. It wasn’t a good year for me personally. A mulligan would be a fair thing to say, to give one to myself, wipe the slate clean and show Travis and Willie and Jim and Trevor (who I am).”
In terms of moving on, Cassels’ 2016-17 campaign is off to a solid start. His mobility – an issue throughout his rookie season in Utica – appears to be back in a major way. He finished a lovely passing sequence as time expired in the second period on Sunday night against the Winnipeg Jets, his hard, accurate wrist shot giving the Canucks a two-goal lead with just three-tenths of a second on the game clock.
“It was a weight off my shoulder,” Cassels said of his goal. “Hockey is all about having fun, it’s the game you grew up playing. Scoring goals will always be fun until – hopefully – the end of a long career. It just happened at the right time, I think, and I was able to feel good in the third.”
‘Feeling good’ is all that Utica Comets head coach Travis Green wants to see from Cassels at the moment. Though Green was impressed by Cassels’ performance on Sunday night, all week Green has emphasized that he just wants to see Cassels find his bearings after a rough first professional season.
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“I’m not going to sit and study Cassels’ game,” Green said on Friday. “There’s been a lot of talk about him coming back and being a much better player this year. I’m not going to get too worried about watching him closely and dissecting his game. I just want to get him playing, let him feel good and confident, and we’ll see where he’s really at in a few weeks.”
It’s early yet, but if his performance at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton this weekend is any indication, Cassels seems poised to return to form this season. His mobility has returned and he’s making plays that he just wouldn’t have been able to a year ago. Whether that will translate at the AHL level this season remains to be seen, but the early returns are auspicious. 
“Not knowing what I could do and now that I’ve got that confidence back, now that I can skate again, now that I can play that weaving game back and forth and make those little dishes (It’s different for me),” Cassels said.