Andrew Cassels’ NHL journey began more than 18 summers ago, but the NHL portion of that journey started on June 13, 1987 at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The 1987 NHL Entry Draft was held at The Joe that summer, and Cassels was among the two dozen top prospects whose names were being bandied about as possible first-round choices.
More than a month shy of his 18th birthday at the time, Cassels was coming off his first season with the fabled Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League. He put up 26 goals and 92 points in just 66 games and led the team in scoring as a 17-year-old rookie. Cassels was also named OHL Rookie of the Year.
Here was the Central Scouting Bureau’s scouting report on the 6-foot-0, 167-pound teenager:
“Skates with good balance, agility, speed and acceleration … uses his intelligence to create a variety of scoring chances … releases wrist shots quickly and accurately … passes excellently, with quick hands and a soft touch … leads his man well … moves the puck at the proper times … breaks into the clear once the pass is made … anticipates the play effectively … takes face-offs skillfully … kills penalties … checks both ways … remains unaffected by physical play … cannot be intimidated … wants to excel … listens and learns … possesses excellent hockey sense.”
The Montreal Canadiens drafted Cassels, using the 17th overall choice in the first round to add him to the fold. Each of the 16 players chosen before Cassels reached the NHL but 18 years later, only six of those players are still active in the NHL: Pierre Turgeon, Brendan Shanahan, Glen Wesley, Luke Richardson, Joe Sakic and Bryan Marchment.
Cassels played two more seasons with the 67s – he led the OHL with 103 assists and 151 points in 1987-88 – before turning pro in 1989-90. For this effort, Cassels was named OHL Player of the Year.
He started the 1989-90 season at AHL Sherbrooke but the Canadiens recalled the 20-year-old Cassels in mid-November. He got into his first NHL game at the Forum on Nov. 20, 1989, scoring his first NHL goal (it would prove to be the game-winner) on his first NHL shot against Calgary’s Mike Vernon in the process.
Sixteen years and two days later, Cassels skated in his 1,000th NHL game for the Capitals at Pittsburgh. He picked up an assist – his 526th helper and his 728th NHL point – on Chris Clark’s second period goal in his 1,000th contest.
“Obviously you want to play [in] one [NHL game] when you are starting out,” says Cassels. “Then after that you want to stick around for as long as you can and have fun while you’re doing it. To stick around and play 1,000 games and still be having fun doing something you like to do takes a while. You have to have some luck along the way and be in the right place at the right time.”
Between the first NHL game and the 1,000th, Cassels donned the sweaters of the Canadiens, the Hartford Whalers, the Calgary Flames, the Vancouver Canucks, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Capitals. He enjoyed four 20-goal seasons, recorded 40 or more assists seven times and had five 60-point campaigns.
Cassels enjoyed some of his best seasons with Hartford. He led the team in assists for three straight seasons and still ranks third on the franchise’s all-time assists list more than eight years after his departure.
It was in Hartford where Cassels was first put on a line with speedy left wing Geoff Sanderson. Sanderson racked up a career high 46 goals and Cassels recorded a career best 64 assists in 1992-93. The duo skated together for several seasons with the Whalers and later was reunited in Columbus with the Blue Jackets.
“We were two different players, so that certainly helped,” says Cassels of his chemistry with Sanderson. “Myself, I like to make plays and give guys lots of opportunities to score goals. Geoff loved to score goals, he had a great shot and he was great at doing it. When you put two players like that together, usually good things happen.”
In recent games, Cassels has assisted on a pair of Alex Ovechkin
’s goals and has skated between Washington rookies Tomas Fleischmann and Jakub Klepis. Prior to Wednesday night’s game with the Lightning, those three and the rest of Cassels’ Washington teammates will give him a Hummer golf cart to commemorate becoming just the 204th player in NHL history to play in 1,000 games. The Capitals’ brass will present Cassels with a silver hockey stick and NHL Senior Vice President of Operations Jim Gregory will also be on hand to mark the event on behalf of the league.
Cassels becomes the fifth player to play in his 1,000th NHL contest while sporting a Capitals’ sweater. He follows Dale Hunter, Phil Housley, Kelly Miller and Adam Oates in achieving that milestone.