It’s been a fairytale final junior season for Cole Cassels. The 20-year-old centre has surpassed every expectation since getting drafted in the third round in 2013. Projected to be a gritty, two-way centre with minimal offensive upside, he stepped up as a first line centre and racked up points, finishing 15th in the OHL with 81 points. Sometimes criticized for over-passing, he scored 30 goals in 54 games.
He followed up his excellent regular season with a stunning playoff performance. His 31 points in 21 playoff games tied with teammate Michael Dal Colle for second in the OHL playoffs behind Connor McDavid’s otherworldly run. In the OHL Finals, however, Cassels went head-to-head with McDavid and came out on top, leading all players with 12 points in the 5-game series.
Then, to top it all off, Cassels helped lead the Oshawa Generals to the Memorial Cup, scoring a goal and adding three assists in their four games while matching up against some of the best players in Junior hockey. An OHL Championship and a Memorial Cup is an impressive way to finish a Junior career.
And Cassels might not even be finished yet. With the Utica Comets going on their own impressive playoff run, Cassels may join them to provide some reinforcement up the middle in the Calder Cup Finals.
If Utica wins AHL semi (up 3-2), VAN will consider adding Cole Cassels. For now, they want him to enjoy Memorial Cup celebration in Oshawa
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) June 2, 2015
This is dependent on the Comets making the Calder Cup Finals. They’re in good shape currently, up 3-2 in their series against the Grand Rapids Griffins, with Game 6 (and Game 7 if necessary) taking place on home ice.
The Comets actually making the Finals is one obstacle; the other is Cassels’ overall health.
Just spoke with Cole Cassels, who isn’t sure if he will join Utica yet. Dealing with a few bumps and bruises. Needs a couple days of rest.
— Tyson Giuriato (@TysonGiuriato) June 2, 2015
Cassels has played a lot of hockey this season, though he would have played more if not for a 10-game suspension, and it’s understandable that he would have accumulated some injuries. This is especially true when you consider the type of minutes Cassels plays, facing the opponent’s top forwards, starting many shifts in the defensive zone, and playing a key role on the penalty kill.
We saw one of those bumps and bruises in the Generals’ second game of the Memorial Cup, when he was felled blocking a shot in overtime. When he limped to the bench, it looked like his night might be over, but he hobbled back onto the ice a few minutes later, winning a faceoff that led directly to the game winning goal.
With all the shots he blocked and heavy hits delivered and taken, Cassels would be well within his rights to sit back, relax, and enjoy what he accomplished this season before starting his off-season training. If he does decide to join Utica, however, he’ll have a very unique opportunity.
As far as we can tell, no player has ever won the Memorial Cup and the Calder Cup in the same year. If Cassels managed it, he would be the first, and would manage to win three championships in one year, including the OHL Championship. There’s even a missed opportunity tossed in: Cassels had a realistic chance to make either Team Canada or Team USA for the World Junior Championship and could have added a gold or silver medal to his incredible season. Alas, it was not to be.
Of course, if Cassels reports to Utica, there’s no guarantee that he’ll actually play. Head coach Travis Green has been happy with the performance of the players that got the Comets to the playoffs and it took injuries to give Jake Virtanen an opportunity, though Virtanen has made the most of that opportunity and has since earned Green’s trust.
Jared McCann, however, has yet to get into a game for the Comets in the playoffs and Cassels would be competing with him at centre for a chance to break into the lineup. You have to imagine, however, that Cassels has a better chance than McCann, with age, experience, and a more well-rounded game all on his side.