Slipping past the first 14 teams, Cole Caufield landed right in the lap of Trevor Timmins and Marc Bergevin, and they had no issue making the 72-goal-scorer their first-round pick.
Playing as a part of a powerhouse U.S. National Team Development Program, Caufield managed to stand out even among his elite peers.
Bound for the University of Wisconsin next year, Caufield was arguably the best goal-scoring forward available in the draft, drawing many comparisons to current Chicago Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat. Standing just over 5’7” and weighing in at 163 pounds, Caufield is not a large player by any means, but he still has a number of weapons in his arsenal to terrorize opposing teams.
If you need convincing that Caufield is a great pick, this is one of the best plays he made this season. Fake shot that opens the lane into snipe while falling down. All of that against one of the top goalie prospect in the world. pic.twitter.com/nmXYwjd6wg— David St-Louis (@RinksideView) June 22, 2019
His ability to produce goals with his shot is second to none, and he uses it to great effect. Caufield manages to manipulate his core and legs to put more velocity behind his shots. He can also shoot from awkward passes, adjusting his position to one-time the puck in. Even when he went through (very) short scoring droughts, Caufield continued to challenge the netminder every game, and it led to one of the best scoring seasons at any Junior hockey level.
Scouts say that the comparisons to DeBrincat are unfair in some circumstances, namely that DeBrincat was a better playmaker at the same time and played with more edge, but Caufield still has areas where he’s better overall. His skating allows him to separate from his counters, and he has a fluid stride that allows him to accelerate by opposing defenders to create his own space on the ice. He will need to add even more speed and quickness as he develops to fit better in the pro game, but it is not a concern due to his strong skating foundation that will allow him to do just that.
Caufield’s game isn’t as agile as that of someone like Peyton Krebs, or his linemate Jack Hughes, but he is constantly in motion looking for open ice. That is his biggest strength — arguably even more than his elite release. Without the puck, Caufield reads and anticipates the play to put himself in the right spots to receive passes and create goals. Whether it be working behind the goal or driving down the wing, it’s hard to find somewhere on the ice that Caufield can’t score from. He is diverse in both his shot locations and selection.
His size is a concern right now, with larger defenders sometimes overwhelming him along the boards. However, that should not diminish just how good he is on the offensive side of the puck. His innate sense of timing, knowing when to jump into space, is also a big advantage against the slower adjusting defenders. Like in the video above, where he picks the right moment to spin off his check for the rebound, or anticipates a turnover to cheat slightly on the offensive side of the puck and remain open for the goal.
The Canadiens haven’t drafted someone of his goal-scoring calibre in a long while, and he adds a new wrinkle into an already deep prospect pool.
On top of his offensive prowess, Caufield also has some potential in the defensive game. His anticipation leads him to break up his fair share of plays in the defensive zone from the winger’s position, and — unlike many goal-scorers with a mind solely focused on the attack — the diminutive forward is generally attentive to his assignments. He doesn’t get caught very often by backdoor plays or defencemen jumping behind his back to the slot.
As it stands, Caufield heads off to the NCAA, and he’ll continue to round out his game at Wisconsin, along with Canadiens 2018 pick Jack Gorniak. Caufield’s goal-scoring is professionally ready, but rounding out his game against larger, adult competition will help bring out the best version of him; a player who never seems to be discouraged regardless of the challenge.
It is easy to be tantalized by the thought of Jesperi Kotkaniemi or Nick Suzuki centring Caufield in the immediate future, but it is wisest to let Caufield finish growing and developing. However, when he’s ready, his ability to produce goals is something that will boost the Canadiens’ offence in the future, and also fill a need the team had going into the draft.
Not only did Montreal land the best possible player available, they seem to have hit the jackpot on also filling in a hole in their prospect pool. He fits the timeline and direction of the current Canadiens team; he plays with speed and skill, a modern sniper even with his stature. Whether it be his size, or something else, the teams that let Caufield slip to 15th overall could very well pay for it soon when the Stevens Point native makes his way into the NHL.
Dobber Prospects: #12
Elite Prospects: #9
Future Considerations: #12
Hockey Prospect: #11
NHL Central Scouting: #8 (NA Skaters)
Pronman/The Athletic: #5
The Montreal Canadiens have been caught behind the curve of the changing NHL before. Not this time. They are drafting the player with the most potential at his position, despite the size concern that have scared others.
The Caufield pick could be seen as a great sign that the Habs are moving forward with the modern game, and he has the ability to be a part of a youth movement that is already paying dividends in the NHL today.