Cole Caufield

Cole Caufield’s shot, not size, will matter in NHL

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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.”

[Devils take Jack Hughes with No. 1 overall pick]

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

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

2019 NHL Draft tracker — Round 1

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The 2019 NHL draft kicks off with the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers at the top of the board.

The Devils began the night by selecting Jack Hughes, making him the eighth American-born player to be selected No. 1 overall.

The New York Rangers followed that up by taking Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 overall pick.

It was a huge night for USA hockey with nine American-born players going in the first round. It was a disappointing night for hockey fans that like trades because there was only one — the Philadelphia Flyers moving from the No. 11 pick to the No. 14 pick in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes.

1. New Jersey Devils — Jack Hughes, forward, U.S. National team

“Elite skating, hockey sense and skill. Hughes has most attributes you look for in a star player. A very agile player with incredible speed. He is also equipped with fast hands and his puck handling along with his skating allows him to regularly beat player one-on-one.” — Elite prospects

For the second time in three years the Devils were the owners of the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and added another potential franchise player to an organization that already has Nico Hischier (the 2017 No. 1 overall pick) and a former NHL MVP in Taylor Hall.

2. NY Rangers — Kaapo Kakko, forward, TPS Turko (Finland)

“A quick-thinking winger, Kakko never seems to be in a rush. He reads the game exceptionally well and finds himself a step ahead while the play is still developing. He is confident with the puck and capable of handling it in small spaces. With his size, Kakko protects the puck well and uses his high hockey IQ to make smart offensive plays. Kakko excels offensively and beats opponents with smarts and skill both on and off the puck.” — Elite prospects

The Rangers were huge winners in the draft lottery in moving up to the No. 2 overall pick, and getting a potential impact player like Kakko could really accelerate their rebuild.

3. Chicago Blackhawks  — Kirby Dach, forward, Saskatoon Blades

“A Ryan Getzlaf-type pivot.” — TSN

It was pretty much a given that Hughes and Kaako were going to be the top-two picks in this year’s class, meaning the real intrigue began here with the Blackhawks, another team that was a big mover in the draft lottery. The Blackhawks still have a strong core of veterans with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith at the top of their lineup and need some cheap, young impact talent to complement them. Perhaps Dach can make that impact as soon as this season. Stan Bowman said on NBCSN immediately after the pick that Dach will have every chance to make the team.

4. Colorado Avalanche (from Ottawa Senators) — Bowen Byram, defender, Vancouver Giants

“An exceptionally gifted defenceman who knows his strengths and plays by them. He possesses elite skating ability and is at his best when playing high energy, up-tempo hockey. He handles the puck well and is able to keep control of it under pressure. He makes calculated decisions that consistently shift momentum in his team’s favor. His creativity in the offensive zone speaks to his confidence in his ability to be a game-changer.” — Elite prospects

The Avalanche received this pick as a result of the 2018 Matt Duchene trade and used it to take the first defender off the board, adding Byram to an already talented young blue line that already features Samuel Girard and Cale Makar. Those two, plus Byram, should be the foundation of the Avalanche’s blue line for the next decade.

5. Los Angeles Kings — Alex Turcotte, forward, USHL

“Exceptional hockey sense, impressive skating and compete-level. There is a lot to like about Turcotte. He is a very gifted playmaker, but also has fine release and goal scoring ability. Can be used in most situations and plays a very complete game.” — Elite prospects

The second American-born player taken in the top-five. The Kings need an organizational overhaul and an infusion of young talent. They hopefully get that with Turcotte to start that rebuild.

6. Detroit Red Wings — Moritz Seider, defender, DEL

“Seider is a mobile and very smart two-way defenseman with few weaknesses. Plays a mature game with strong and consistent defensive decisions. Offensively, his vision allows him to be a very good passer and he is also good at getting his shot through.” — Elite prospects

Steve Yzerman begins his rebuild of the Detroit Red Wings with what can probably be described as an “off the board pick.” Seider has great size and can move the puck and will now be one of the faces of the Red Wings’ rebuild.

7. Buffalo Sabres — Dylan Cozens, forward, Lethbridge Hurricanes

Dubbed “The Whitehorse Workhorse” and a “can’t miss” player by TSN’s Craig Button — TSN

The first of the Buffalo Sabres’ two first-round picks, the Sabres pick a two-way forward that they badly needed after giving away Ryan O'Reilly before the season. Cozens is the first player from the Yukon to ever be selected in the first round.

8. Edmonton Oilers — Philip Broberg, defense, Sweden

“Philip Broberg is a gifted two-way defenseman. His fluid skating ability allows him to punish over-extension immediately with how quickly he can start plays from his own end. On the fly, he pays close attention to where the puck’s going and where it’s been. This allows him to read the play early and make the most of any time and space found. On the downside, his defensive play could be more consistent as well as his decision making. Additional improvement when it comes to his release as well as puck distribution could make him a high-scoring defenseman.” — Elite Prospects

Ken Holland knows his team needs help on the blue line and players that can skate and move the puck. Broberg is a good place for him to start when it comes to reshaping an Oilers team that has holes all over its lineup after Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

9. Anaheim Ducks — Trevor Zegras, forward, USHL

“Zegras is an elite two-way forward that can play both wing and center. His pro-level mobility is the foundation of his game, supplementing an in-transition speed that shifts the pace of play. He knows how to get under the skin of opponents and will actively seek out opportunities to lay the body and create separation, all the while staying attentive to the unfolding play. This unique aspect of his game makes him difficult and frustrating to play against.” — Elite Prospects

The third player from the U.S. National development program in the first round and all went in the top-10. The Ducks lineup needs some creativity and skill and Zegras brings the potential for plenty of both.

10. Vancouver Canucks — Vasili Podkolzin, forward, Russia

“A skilled winger who plays with an edge. Podkolzin combines his fine hockey sense, puck handling and shooting with an aggressive, in-your-face, type of game. He competes hard, is very difficult to play against and has the tools to be a high scoring player.” — Elite Prospects

The first Russian-born player take in 2019 and a potential impact player, but Canucks fans will have to wait for two years for him to play in the NHL. So be patient, Canucks fans.

11. Arizona Coyotes (from Philadelphia Flyers) — Victor Soderstrom, defender, Sweden

“An uber competitive two-way defenceman who thinks the game at the highest level, A gifted skater, his ability to traverse all three zones is best described as smooth and effortless. He never looks disinterested and it’s always apparent just how badly he wants to win. His vision and awareness is great, allowing him to play a responsible yet dynamic brand of hockey. He’s a dangerous puck-carrier with a great shot. Defensively, he makes good decisions quickly and consistently, never looking out of place when pitted up against the other team’s top players. He pressures the opposition and limits options, never getting in the way of his goalie.” — Elite Prospects

Our first trade of the draft saw the Coyotes move up from No. 14 to No. 11 in a deal with the Flyers. The Coyotes moved up to continue the first-round run on defenders.

12. Minnesota Wild — Matthew Boldy, forward, USHL

“Boldy is a highly skilled winger. A finesse player with impressive creativity, a quick release and fine playmaking ability. Not the fastest of skaters, Boldy’s hockey sense and overall skill level still allows him to be reliable offensive threat.” — Elite Prospects

Another big win for the US National Development program as Boldy goes to the Wild at No. 12 to add some skill to the Wild’s farm system. He is ready to play at Boston College next season.

13. Florida Panthers — Spencer Knight, goalie, USHL

Yet another player from the US Development team and the first goalie off the board. The Panthers have some long-term goaltending questions with Roberto Luongo being near the end of his career and James Reimer potentially out the door. It remains to be seen when Knight will make an impact in the NHL, but he is an incredible athlete in net. He is just the third goalie drafted in the first round since 2012, so it is a bit of a gamble pick.

14. Philadelphia Flyers (from Arizona Coyotes) — Cam York, defender, USHL

“A highly skilled defenseman. York has impressive hockey sense and his overall skill level is high. Furthermore, he is very mobile, has a good passing game and a quick release. Defensively he is solid with an active stick and strong positioning.” — Elite Prospects

The SIXTH player from the US National Development team. The Flyers get York, as well as an additional pick in the 2019 draft, by moving down three spots in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes.

15. Montreal Canadiens — Cole Caufield, forward, USHL

“A game-breaking goal scorer that, despite his diminutive frame, thrives under pressure and is difficult to contain. Defensively, he’s uncomfortable having the puck in his own end for long and he’ll make the extra effort to pressure around the blue line and take away cross-ice options. Upon procuring puck possession, he’ll be the first to explode up ice in-transition. The hallmark of his game is his exceptional goal-scoring ability. He has a shot that absolutely leaps off his stick with pinpoint accuracy when he lets loose and a low centre of gravity that facilitates fast and flashy puckhandling at pace.” — Elite Prospects

This could be an absolute steal. The best goal-scorer in the draft and an electrifying talent that probably would have been a top-10, or even top-5 pick if he were just a few inches taller.

16. Colorado Avalanche — Alex Newhook, forward, Victoria Grizzlies 

“Offensively driven player, he handles the puck with finesse and excels when leading a rush.” — Elite Prospects

The second of Colorado’s two first-round picks, Newhook becomes the newest member of the Avalanche organization. After bolstering their defense depth at No. 4, the Avalanche add another skilled center with Newhook with their own pick at No. 16 overall.

17. Vegas Golden Knights — Peyton Krebs, forward, Kootenay Ice 

“Krebs is a potent point-producer and offensive catalyst that rises to the occasion whenever he’s on the ice. He is a smooth, shifty skater that traverses all three zones with ease and closes the gap on the backcheck quickly. Defensively, his understanding of the game communicates itself through his proactive positioning and an active, lane-disrupting stick. Willing to go to the dirty areas and fight for the puck, but isn’t at his best there.” — Elite Prospects

The Golden Knights have traded a lot of prospects and draft picks in recent years, but they now have Krebs and Cody Glass to still drive their prospect pool down the middle at center.

18. Dallas Stars — Thomas Harley, defender, Mississauga Steelheads

“Harley skates well and stands out with his hockey sense, especially when handling the puck. He sees openings many players don’t and is a very good passer. On the downside, there is room for improvement when it comes to his decision making and compete level.” — Elite Prospects

An organization that is already blessed with John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen at the top of its blue line for the next decade gets another gifted playmaker.

19. Ottawa Senators (from Columbus Blue Jackets) — Lassi Thomson, defender, Kelowna Rockets

“Skilled two-way defenseman with above average offensive tools. Thomson is a fluid skater and moves the puck well up the ice. Not a bad passer, but stands out more with his slapper from the blue line.” — Elite Prospects

The Senators had to make a deal at the deadline to get back into the first-round of the 2019 draft, and while it may not have been the top pick they would have wanted for such a down year, they still add another solid defense prospect to the system to go with Thomas Chabot and Erik Brannstrom.

20. Winnipeg Jets (from New York Rangers) — Ville Heinola, defender, Finland

After trading Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers the Jets need to start rebuilding their defense and Heinola is a good place to start. Craig Button said on Friday night he is probably two or three years away and projects as a second-pair defender.

21. Pittsburgh Pittsburgh — Samuel Poulin, forward, Sherbrooke Phoenix 

“Poulin is a very all-round player. He plays a good two-way game and has very few weaknesses to his game. Furthermore, he competes hard, has leadership qualities and is a decent point producer.” — Elite Prospects

This is the Penguins’ first selection in Round 1 since 2014, while their most recent first-round pick on the roster is Sidney Crosby, taken during the 2005 draft. Poulin is still couple of years away from the NHL so do not expect him to be scoring goals in Pittsburgh anytime soon.

22. Los Angeles Kings (from Toronto Maple Leafs) — Tobias Bjornfot, defender, Sweden

“Björnfot is a very capable two-way defenseman with few weaknesses in his game. A strong skater who reads the game well and contributes both offensively and defensively. Also a good leader and he competes hard on every shift. Can be used on the powerplay, but stands out more in his own end with this solid play.” — Elite Prospects

The second Kings pick of the first-round and the result of the trade that sent Jake Muzzin to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Kings use it to add another defender to the organization.

23. New York Islanders — Simon Holmstrom, forward, Sweden

“An offensively skilled player who competes hard. Holmström is a good skater and stands out with really good hands and impressive puckhandling skills. Quite shifty and a player that can do the unexpected offensively. Has a good wrister and his two-way game is underrated. Great character and team player.” — Elite Prospects

The Islanders were the big surprise team during the 2018-19 season but really lacked impact goal-scorers. Holmstrom could one day help solve the latter part as he has the potential to be a finisher in the NHL.

24. Nashville Predators — Philip Tomasino, forward, Niagara IceDogs

He nearly tripled his offensive production this past season and as a result rapidly climbed draft boards. Speedy forward that can make an impact all over the ice.

25. Washington Capitals — Connor McMichael, forward, London Knights

“A smart center with impressive hockey sense. Reads the game very well and plays well in his own end too. Puckhandling is good and he has a decent nose for the net. Some consistency issues.” — Elite Prospects

Versatile player that can play a number of different roles. Had 72 points in 67 games for the London Knights during the season.

26. Calgary Flames — Jakob Pelletier, forward, Moncton Wildcats

Undersized, but very talented. Just the type of player you want to take a chance on late in the first round. The Flames have had success with a player like that in Johnny Gaudreau. He recorded 89 points in 65 games in the QMJHL this season. Played center and wing in juniors but Craig Button sees him as a winger at the NHL level.

27. Tampa Bay Lightning — Nolan Foote, forward, Kelowna Rockets

Two years after the Lightning selected Cal Foote in the first round, they selected his brother, Nolan. This is Julian Brisebois’ first pick as general manager of the Lightning. He scored 36 goals and finished with 63 total points in 66 games for Kelowna this season.

28. Carolina Hurricanes — Ryan Suzuki, forward, Barrie Colts

“Suzuki is a good skater, excellent passer and is very good at putting himself in scoring positions, where he rarely fails to capitalize. He does not play overly physical, but is very good at avoiding contact while doing so. He has excellent hands and all around vision. On the downside, his effort-level has been questioned.” — Elite prospects

The younger brother of Montreal Canadiens prospect Nick Suzuki. The Hurricanes add another playmaker to promising young roster. He started the season as a potential top-10 pick but slid down a little throughout the year.

29. Anaheim Ducks (from San Jose Sharks- from Buffalo Sabres) — Brayden Tracey, forward, Moose Jaw Warriors

Excellent production for Tracey this past season to go with a lot of talent. The Ducks use their second pick of the first round to add some much-needed skill and offense to an organization that just lost Corey Perry (buyout) and Ryan Kesler (injury).

30. Boston Bruins — John Beecher, forward, USHL

The eighth player taken in the first round from the US National Development team. The Bruins have a bunch of excellent centers at the NHL level but they are not going to play forever. Have to restock the cupboards at some point, and Beecher helps do that.

31. Buffalo Sabres (from St. Louis Blues) — Ryan Johnson, defender, USHL

The Sabres need Ryan Johnson to pan out, not only because they need as much help as they can get on the NHL roster, but because this pick, along with the development of Tage Thompson, is the only hope the Sabres have to salvage the Ryan O’Reilly trade.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.