In a year when a lot of the young players within the Habs’ prospect pool are looking to join the professional ranks, Cole Caufield’s recent addition keeps the system as one of the top-ranked in the NHL. His selection at 15th, and his career path to date, could define the success of the recent rebuild trajectory of the organization.
Birthplace: Stevens Point, Wisconsin, USA
Date of birth: January 2, 2001
Drafted: 2019 (15th overall)
Position: Right Wing
Weight: 163 lbs.
Team: University of Wisconsin (NCAA)
Many other teams wouldn’t take the risk, but the diminutive scorer can definitely capture the imagination. After a record-breaking season with the U.S National Team Development Program, through an impressive display at the World Junior Summer Showcase, he will look to continue building his reputation with a strong freshman season at the University of Wisconsin.
Almost all of the votes for Caufield were in the top 10; the lone voter who placed the forward outside of it had him only one spot out. It reflects the goal-scorer’s status as a top prospect in the organization even immediately after being drafted.
I placed him at third. It’s high, probably too high for a player just coming out of his draft year, and looking back I might move him down, but no further than one spot.
I easily chose him over established NHLers and some of the top prospects transitioning to professional hockey this season. I respect proven ability, but in Caufield I see an already impressive skill set and ample room to grow his game. Good candidates for that are his skating stride and playmaking abilities (more on this later). His skill package makes him a good bet to become a top-six forward, and the impressive goal-scoring track record gives him the necessary boost to end up at the top of my board.
History of #7
|2014||Jacob de la Rose|
A lot has been said on Caufield already. It bears repeating, however, due to how unique his skill set is compared to most prospects — even other goal-scorers. Some of it is attributable to his size. It definitely has an influence on how he plays the game. The end result is a different approach to offensive-zone play.
He can be found in quiet spaces. It’s a good thing considering that, despite how strong he is for his stature, he wouldn’t be able to last long battling in front of an NHL net. He may never have to face Shea Weber, but there are plenty of other giant defenders who would be eager for the opportunity to toss him away from the crease.
Instead, the winger uses the width and length of the offensive zone to stay out of checking distance. He is involved in the play by giving pass support away from the defensive box and moving the puck quickly when he gets it, but his best work is done away from possession. He patiently waits for a teammate to be in a position to pass, and jumps into well-guarded areas to fire the puck. This way, he fools the defence by getting the puck on and off his stick before they can react to his presence.
His offensive-zone movements also benefit his team as a whole. He expands the play and creates space for his linemates to play the puck — ideally, finding him with great passes.
Caufield is also a dominant shooter. He is deceptive in his releases, fooling netminders with angle changes and using defenders as screens. His hot is incredibly precise, threading pucks through the smallest of holes in coverage.
He also combines power with his accuracy. He doesn’t drive his whole body in most shots, unlike other, bigger scoring NHL forwards (although he can also do that sometimes). He typically relies on core rotation and arm strength to lift the puck past the goalie’s shoulder.
He also found his fair share of goals this season by jumping on loose pucks around the net, using the same element of timing to avoid defenders and be first on the puck.
A player whom many had pegged as a top-10 draft prospect doesn’t have a large list of weaknesses. Many aspects of his game are more developed than average firt-round selections. But it’s hard to qualify some elements as strengths, either, especially when compared to his striking ability to put the puck in the net. Therefore, regard many of the elements below more as works in progress than clear weaknesses (other than the obvious one that is his slight frame).
Let’s start with skating. For most players with a larger stature, skating would not be mentioned as a weakness if they had Caufield’s mobility, but for the diminutive forward, it would make life easier if he added another gear. He is quick, but he would best retain his ability to score off the rush as he progresses in his career if he could use less effort to get up and down the ice.
Strength contributes to speed, but correcting his form — aiming for slightly more knee bend and (more importantly) a straighter back — will help him get the most out of each stride.
He would also become even more dangerous if he added a playmaking touch. The foundations for a good setup ability are already there in his game. He reads defenders and teammates well, shows poise with the puck, and the threat of his shot is so great that opponents often leave passing lanes completely open. It’s what we saw happen at the World Junior Summer Showcase on this power-play assist.
This is likely a facet of his game that we see surface in the next few years. He will face defenders that are better at taking away shooting options, and therefore becoming a better playmaker will indirectly make him a more threatening shooter as it will keep defences guessing as to what he will do with the puck.
His defensive game is another area under construction. He doesn’t suffer from many lapses in awareness, but he is one to cheat toward the offensive side of the puck at times. He knows that a single step on the opposition can be the difference between a scoring chance and getting blocked at the other end of the ice. His internal risk gauge will have to be tuned to the demands of college and professional hockey.
If all goes well, he will be on the scoring leadboard of the NHL for years to come. He might be on the smaller side, but the way he gets the puck from a teammate’s stick to the back of the net is highly translatable to the NHL. A great sense of timing and high-level shooting abilities are the most important elements of a goal-scorer’s game, and Caufield possesses them both.
The forward’s skating form doesn’t have any big flaw that would prevent him from adding more speed, and it should improve by working with skating and strength coaches. His strong habits in the offensive zone, that lead to great awareness of the moving play, should slowly translate to his defensive game through the years. He won’t become a penalty-killer, but he is already capable of recognizing passing lanes and pinching aggressively at the right times to cut opposition chances.
There is plenty of promise when it comes to the weaker parts of the forward’s game. The strengths are what make him the best goal-scoring prospect Montreal has had in decades.