Cole Caufield was the best player on the board when the Montreal Canadiens selected him 15th overall in the 2019 NHL Draft. All he did before he was drafted was score goals, something that continued after he was drafted, but he’s a lot more than just a goal scorer.
That improvement and development of his all around game is what puts him squarely in the second spot in this ranking.
Caufield’s season was a great one. He won the gold medal at the World Juniors, the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in NCAA men’s hockey, and his short AHL stint where he had three goals in two games led to a stint on the Canadiens taxi squad where he sat and learned until his NHL debut.
On top of the stats from his regular season, he played 20 playoff games for the Canadiens, scoring four goals and adding eight assists. His role in the playoffs gives an indication of where he will slot in as he starts his first full professional season.
Unlike everyone else in this ranking so far, Cole Caufield didn’t benefit from Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s absence to move up. He would have done that all on his own, with deuces wild in his ranking.
There is surely a case to put him ahead of Nick Suzuki, but for now, our panel and the community as a whole still have the centre ahead.
Top 25 Under 25 History
Caufield has had a steady rise from the time he entered the Canadiens organization. Any doubts about his small stature when he was drafted have quickly faded and he will likely be an NHL player for a long time.
History of #2
If you know anything about Cole Caufield, you know what his strength is. He’s an incredible goal scorer. His shot is elite. There was always a question of how it would translate to the NHL level, and I think it’s fair to say that those concerns can be put to bed for good.
One area that we may not have known how Caufield would adjust would be in terms of game-breaking abilities. There are two goals in particular that stick out in this regard, and both came in the series against the Vegas Golden Knights.
The first one came when the Canadiens were getting outshot 22-4 in a pivotal Game 3. Vegas had just scored to make it 1-0 at the Bell Centre, and things weren’t looking good for the Canadiens. Just 38 seconds later, Nick Suzuki took the puck, saw a streaking Caufield and it was tied.
The game ended up going to overtime when Montreal won, but the ability to have someone to find space, create a chance against the run of play and convert that chance is something that will be a huge boon to this Canadiens team.
The second goal that comes to mind was the goal that you probably thought of when I mentioned the Golden Knights, and that was his go-ahead goal in Game 6. This is the other side of gamebreaking ability.
If the first goal was about his ability to take advantage of an opportunity, this one was all about creating his own opportunity. The ability to take the puck and make a play like he did proves everything you need to know about Caufield’s game. He’s not just a shooter who takes advantage of open ice.
When you get to this point of the ranking, weaknesses are less about things the player doesn’t do, but what they don’t do as well as other things.
The things we had here in the past for Caufield is his skating, and his play away from the puck.
Watch the clips above. There should be no questions about his skating. He may not be the best skater in the league, but it is not something that will hold him back. A lot of time, people need small players to be elite skaters to make an impact at the NHL level. Caufield turns this on its head. He’s more than capable.
The big jump in his play is his defensive ability. This was something that was touted in his second year at the University of Wisconsin, and something that we saw at the World Juniors. Team USA didn’t use Caufield as a purely offensive weapon, they used him in key defensive situations as well.
His size will always be seen as an issue, but he’s always played as a smaller player and is great at finding space and using his leverage. The only question one may have is how his body will react to a full professional season.
Cole Caufield proved that he will be a key contributor at the NHL level, and should be able to make that impact as quickly as this upcoming season. There will obviously be bumps in the road, but there’s nothing to suggest that Caufield will not be able to adapt.
Watching Caufield over the last few years, the phrase that comes to mind is that he’s too smart to fail. If you watch him play, you can see little intricacies in his game. The way he circles the offensive zone to get lost and avoid defenders. The way he places his stick in just the right spot, and the way he anticipates where the puck is going to go before it gets there.
His hockey sense is what takes him to the next level. He’s not just a shooter. He’s so much more than that. He’s a creator, and his presence was a major factor in why the Canadiens were able to push themselves farther in the playoffs than anyone would have expected.
This season he will be at the top of a lot of Calder Trophy shortlists for Rookie of the Year. He should play with either Nick Suzuki or Christian Dvorak, he will get a ton of power play time, and it’s not out of the question to expect 30 goals in his first full NHL season.
There can be questions as to how good he can eventually become. I am not sure anyone can definitively say that he will be battling for Rocket Richard trophies in the immediate future, but having said that, would you really want to be the person to bet against Caufield at this point?
Expectations will be all over the place for Caufield this season, but I think we need to take a step back. A successful season for him would be for him to establish himself as a constant producer at the NHL level. If he can get 20 to 25 goals, that has to be seen as a step in the right direction. Anything else would be a bonus, including winning Rookie of the Year. We have to remember that he won’t turn 21 until January, and we need to separate what the Canadiens need him to do from what would be a normal development step.
### WARNING LONG PODCAST ###
Also including, hunting, fishing and some beer drinking.
Special Guest Marc Dumont joins Anton Rasegård and Patrik Bexell to speak about all things that we could think of, as well as Cole Caufield.