VANCOUVER — When asked by the Chicago Blackhawks during a pre-NHL Draft meeting how he would sell himself to the team to be selected with the third overall pick, Cole Caufield replied, “You’ll regret it if you don’t.”
Well, it won’t just be Chicago regretting passing on the 18-year-old if Caufield does indeed have a great NHL career. Fourteen teams passed over the 5-foot-7, 163 lbs. winger before the Montreal Canadiens pounced to take him at No. 15.
Coming out a talented class from the United States National Team Development Program, which saw a record eight players selected in Round 1 Friday night, Caufield lit up scoreboards during the 2018-19 season scoring 72 goals in 64 games this season, breaking the USNTDP single-season record. Over the course of his career, the Wisconsin native broke Phil Kessel’s goal scoring record with 126 in 123 games.
“I’ve never seen purer hands coming through the NTDP,” said U.S. U18 head coach John Wroblewski. “When he catches a puck, it lays flat. Every pass or shot explodes off his stick. It’s not the flashy dangles, it’s pure, it’s clean… His shot is so accurate. He hits so many crossbars and elbows in practice it’s insane. He loves the game. He’s got a smile on his face all the time. Our goalies love stopping him, but they can’t do it.”
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Caufield’s shot is the best asset in his toolbox. He showed he can fire the puck from anywhere, sporting a team-high 282 shots in 64 games this season, and do it at a successful rate.
“I’d just put down a bucket of pucks and start shooting from anywhere,” said Caufield, who’s committed to the University of Wisconsin next season. “I think I just developed a love for shooting the puck. I think some people don’t do it enough. I’ve always been a kid that just loved to shoot the puck and I’m going to continue to work at it because the goalies are only going to get better from here.”
Caufield likens his game to Alex DeBrincat, a friend who also boasts a small frame at 5-foot-7. The Chicago Blackhawks forward has shown that size doesn’t matter during his young productive NHL career.
Those questions about being a smaller player likely won’t stop anytime soon, but Caufield is eager to continue showing that it doesn’t affect his game.
“Now I kind of just laugh it off,” Caufield said. “Nobody’s going to stop asking me about it. I’m just going to have to continue to prove people wrong because I’ve been dealing with it my whole life. At this point, it doesn’t really matter to me. It’s not really a risk factor in my game and how I play, so I’m not too worried about it.”
As Caufield met with the media following his selection, Wroblewski came over and the two embraced while wearing big smiles. It was an historic night for the USNTDP and the progress of the 22-year-old program has only grown every year as the draft rolls around.
“It really didn’t hit me until these past two years,” Caufield said about his NHL dreams becoming a reality. “Just making that [USNTDP] team was something special to me. I took it right by the horns and said this is my chance, this is my opportunity. I think I proved a lot of people wrong pretty fast, so I think I’m just going to continue to do that. I can’t credit enough of my success to that program and all the guys that helped me there.”
MORE: 2019 NHL Draft tracker — Round 1
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.