Going back to 1963, the Montreal Canadiens have drafted a total of 542 non-goaltenders. In all that time, only three other players they’ve chosen have had roughly the same dimensions as Cole Caufield, with varying results. Mats Naslund sure turned out all right. Michel Brisebois never played beyond major junior and Frank Hamill ripped it up in the North American League in the 1970s, right around the time the Carlson brothers were terrorizing opponents and providing much of the inspiration for Slap Shot.
When Caufield checked in at the NHL draft combine, he was measured at 5-foot-7-and-one-quarter and 162 pounds. But you get the sense he is much like the proverbial kitten that looks in the mirror and sees a lion staring back at him. The league’s Central Scouting Bureau has no measuring device for confidence and swagger, but even if it did the tool would be useless because Caufield’s cockiness would be off the charts.
When asked to describe his playing style after being taken 15th overall by the Canadiens, he responded by saying, “I’m exciting.” And the all-time leading goal-scorer in the history of the U.S. National Team Development Program refused to concede his success was due to the sublime talents of his linemate, No. 1 pick Jack Hughes. “I’ve said this before, but (Hughes) wouldn’t have had the number of assists if it wasn’t for me, too,” Caufield said. “I’m confident in myself in that way, and I know he’s such a great player he can make anybody better, but the way we work so well together is our brains are so smart and we do things at such a high pace. I can play with anyone, I can make anyone better.”
And he may have a point there. Caufield has often been compared to Alex DeBrincat of the Chicago Blackhawks, who put up three straight 50-goal seasons in the OHL but had to wait 38 picks before hearing his name called in 2016. Some of that was due to the fact scouts felt his scoring prowess was largely attributable to his centers with the Erie Otters, namely Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome. Teams were not about to make that same mistake again three years later, although Caufield ended up falling in the draft further than most people would have thought.
For now, Caufield is going to play at the University of Wisconsin this coming season under Tony Granato. Alex Turcotte, a U.S. NTDP teammate and the No. 5 pick in the draft, will likely be his center. But the stay will not be a long one. Caufield has said he has no intention of playing all four years at Wisconsin, while Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin openly said after the draft that he wants Caufield playing pro long before then. The clincher was when Caufield was asked what his major will be at Wisconsin and he replied, “I don’t know.”
So what can Montreal expect from Caufield in the near future? Well, unless something drastic happens and the Habs sign him this summer, he won’t help a team that has had trouble creating offense and has had a moribund power play in the short term. But the long-term prospects are tantalizing.
The young man can flat-out score goals, as evidenced by the 72 of them he put up this past season, including 14 in seven games at the World Under-18 Championship with a U.S. team that had 17 players selected in the 2019 draft, the most by any team in history. “Goal-scoring is at a premium in this league,” Bergevin said. “It’s hard to score goals, and everywhere he was, he was able to do that, so I don’t see why he won’t be able to do that at the next level.”