Within a few minutes of his first practice with the Laval Rocket, Cole Caufield was battling for the puck against the boards in a one-on-one drill with a teammate.
It was an apt metaphor for what Caufield will be looking to do in Laval. Speaking to the media after practice, he used the term ‘work’ several times. There was no ambiguity in his words. He’s not expecting to coast on the fact he was a first-round pick. He’s not thinking success will come easy after three goals in his two AHL games last season, either.
“You’re never really thinking about [being sent down],” Caufield said. “I was trying to find my game. I think that’s what everyone was trying to do right now. Slow start but this is going to be good for me to find my game again and gain my confidence.”
Caufield is known for scoring goals, and even he couldn’t remember a time where he had gone 10 games without scoring one. Throughout practice and his press conference, the normally-upbeat Caufield didn’t even crack a smile. He says he’s level-headed about his assignment to Laval, and he knows what’s ahead of him.
“I’m here to work and enjoy this, but I want to get back up there as soon as I can,” he said. “It’s not a panic button at all, it’s just coming down here, getting your mind straight and getting back to work.”
Both the Montreal Canadiens and Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle have said there’s no timeline on Caufield’s time in Laval. The organization wants him to get top minutes, and have the opportunity to touch the puck and get back into good habits by playing with a little less pressure.
Caufield heard from teammates, and even some former teammates like Corey Perry, who himself had to take a similar path as a young player.
“He’s 20 years old,” said Houle. “There are some players who spend three or four years in the AHL. Whether you’re a first-round pick, or second, you have to bring your game to a certain level to play well in the NHL. If you make mistakes, you can make them in the AHL. It’s a lot better than in the NHL. Making mistakes is a part of hockey. if you don’t make mistakes, you don’t learn.”
Houle says that as of now, he expects Caufield to line up on the right side of Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Ryan Poehling. If there’s anyone who can relate to what Caufield is going through, it’s Poehling. Not only is Poehling a first-round pick who had World Junior success, but Poehling also had the highest of NHL highs before going back to the AHL.
“He’s someone I’m pretty close to, even before this,” Caufield said. “I’m happy to be with him. He’s someone I can communicate with, he understands it all. He’s such a good guy, he’s here to work and do the same thing. It’s going to be a pleasure to be with him.”
On the other side of Caufield’s assignment to Laval is Michael Pezzetta’s NHL recall. The 2016 sixth-round pick made his NHL debut on Tuesday, and hours before he took to the ice, his coach in Laval talked about the moment he let him know.
“It’s exciting, I’m not going to lie,” Houle said. “As an AHL coach, it’s the one thing that really drives you as a coach is to be able to tell a kid that ‘hey you’re being called up to the NHL to play your first game’. It’s great for the kid, and for a coach, that’s why we coach. We’re there for those kids and give them the opportunity to maybe go up and play in the NHL. That’s why I coach and I love it. It was a great moment between Pez and I and I was really proud of him. He deserves it, he started the season very well, he’s energetic, he brings a lot of energy to the lineup and I’m really proud of him.”
The Rocket will continue to get ready with practices until their trip to New York state as they will travel for a game Saturday in Syracuse and Sunday in Utica. If Caufield remains with the Rocket after the road trip, his first AHL home game will be on Wednesday when Laval hosts the Belleville Senators.