Often times, mid-to-late round picks in the NHL draft become nothing but afterthoughts. But every now and then, teams find key contributors and difference makers that vault them into contender status. One player that looks like he may fit into the latter category is Canucks prospect Cole Cassels.
Son of former Canucks centre Andrew Cassels, Cole Cassels was selected in the 3rd round, 85th overall in the 2013 NHL entry draft after putting up 43 points in his second OHL season. Essentially he was nothing special at the time, but looked like a player that could get better when he got a bigger role. That opportunity presented itself the following year when Cassels was moved to the first line in Oshawa and played with 1st round picks Scott Laughton and Michael Dal Colle.
Oshawa was unable to win the OHL championship last season, and looked like they might take a step back with Laughton graduating to professional hockey. Instead, the whole team took a step forward and led by Cassels and Dal Colle went all the way to the OHL Final this year.
In the OHL Final, Cassels was given the unenviable task of shutting down young phenom Connor McDavid. McDavid entered the series against the Generals with 36 points in 15 playoff games, including a 5-goal game.
Cassels was matched up against McDavid and was able to limit him to 7 points in 5 games, which is impressive given the rate that McDavid was scoring at previously. Cassels actually outscored McDavid in the series, notching 12 points of his own.
Oshawa will now represent the OHL in the Mastercard Memorial Cup, which pits the champions from each CHL League (OHL, WHL & QMJHL) and the host team in a round robin and playoff tournament. It is the marquee event for the CHL and something that a lot of hockey fans look forward to.
I am excited for Cole Cassels as a prospect, but the real question is what can we expect from Cassels as a pro in the Canucks organization?
Cassels plays the game with an edge, as witnessed by hits like this:
Cassels was suspended for 10 games in November for a hit from behind, so he will need to learn how to ‘walk the line’.
As previously mentioned, Cassels is able to limit other teams’ top players. That will be a huge asset while he transitions to the pro ranks, as he can still be a useful contributor while continuing to build on his offensive game. The Memorial Cup will be a great test for Cassels to see if he can shut down the top players from championship teams.
Even though Cassels has been tasked with the shutdown role, he is still contributing offensively. Cassels put up 31 points in 21 OHL playoff games, exactly the same pace (1.5 PPG) that he had during the regular season. Cassels uses his NHL calibre speed and shooting abilities to his advantage.
In order for any NHL team to be successful, they need their players to buy into their roles and excel at them. With the exception of pre-injury Manny Malhotra, one role that the Canucks never seem to have is a 3rd line centre that can shut down the opposing team’s top players while still being effective in the offensive zone. At the moment, it appears that Cassels is trending towards that role.
That isn’t a bad thing because drafting a 3rd line centre in the 3rd round should be considered a great pickup. Canucks fans should be excited for Cole Cassels, but make sure to keep those expectations realistic. He isn’t going to be the next Jonathan Toews or Patrice Bergeron but he could turn into a player the current Canucks roster desperately needs.
You can watch Cole Cassels compete for the Memorial Cup on Saturday May 23 at 1:30 PM PT, Sunday May 24 at 1:30 PM PT and Tuesday May 26 at 4:30 PM PT. All games will be broadcast live on Sportsnet.