VANCOUVER – Without even a hint of irony, one of the first things Cole Caufield talked about after being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens was how he “looks up to Alex DeBrincat.” He actually looks down on the Chicago Blackhawks star. Caufield’s official measurement at the draft combine was 5-foot-7 ¼, a quarter-inch taller than DeBrincat’s 5-foot-7 listing.
But like DeBrincat, Caufield plans on spending his NHL career filling nets and making a bunch of teams regret the fact that they scouted him with a tape measure. The kid might be short when it comes to stature, but not when the issue turns to self-confidence. Or talent. The 15th overall pick is the No. 1 goal scorer in the history of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program and he was steadfastly unwilling to concede to the notion that the only reason he scored so much was that No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes was his center.
“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.”
The plan for Caufield at the moment is to do that next season at the University of Wisconsin, where his older brother, Brock, will be a sophomore and fifth-overall pick Alex Turcotte will be attending. But if I’m Soo Greyhounds GM Kyle Raftis, I would be calling this kid on a daily basis and selling him on the merits of playing major junior hockey because this is a young man who desperately wants to be on the fast track to the NHL. (The Greyhounds own his major junior rights, having drafted him 240th overall in 2018.) First, he stated that he wants to go to training camp with the intention of making the team, which would immediately void his college eligibility. And when he was asked what his major at Wisconsin will be next season, he replied, “I don’t know.” Seriously.
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin didn’t exactly throw a bucket of cold water on the notion. Bergevin said he fully expects Caufield to be at Wisconsin next season, but the team’s upcoming development camp – something in which Caufield is able to participate – will provide the organization with a better idea of his development curve. “I think most kids want to play in the NHL, so he’s no different than anybody else,” Bergevin said. “It’s way too early. We’ll place him next week at camp and we’ll see where he’s at. Most likely he’ll be in college next year. Most likely, but you never know. I don’t expect him to play next year, but he won’t spend four years in college. I don’t think so. I hope not.”
One of eight players from the USNTDP picked in the first round, Caufield scored a mind-boggling 72 goals in 64 games this past season. His shot is dynamic, particularly his one-timer. For an organization that is starved for goals and impotent on the power play, Caufield was just too difficult for the Canadiens to pass up. Bergevin said Caufield’s advisor, Pat Brisson, told him Friday that unless he was prepared to trade up into the top 10, he wouldn’t get Caufield. When asked to describe his game, the first two words out of his mouth were, “I’m exciting.”
“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.”
If he does end up at Wisconsin and things go well, you can probably expect Caufield to be a one and done. Does that mean he’ll be in the NHL as soon as 2020-21? Well, it’s difficult to tell at this point, but with those kinds of elite skills, his size won’t prevent him from playing. As Bergevin said, he’s had to deal with it all his life. It’s not as though he was 6-foot-4 and suddenly woke up one day at 5-foot-7. Chances are, he’s done growing and even if he’s not, his further growth will likely be negligible. Caufield’s father, Paul, who won three NCAA Division III championships at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and remains the school’s all-time leading scorer, his 5-foot-10 and his grandfather, Wayne, who played minor pro hockey, is 5-foot-8.
“I don’t think I’d be the player I am today without my size,” Caufield said. “I can’t do anything about it and I think I’ve used it to my advantage my whole life and I’m going to continue to do that because it hasn’t slowed me down yet.”
With Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling and Nick Suzuki down the middle, the Canadiens are much stronger organizationally at center than they’ve been in years. That was partly why Bergevin felt comfortable getting a smaller player, albeit one who has the potential to create copious offense. If that happens, either in the short- or long-term, we might look back in 10 years and talk about how the Canadiens got a major steal in the 2019 draft.
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