With the news of the Montreal Canadiens signing star prospect Cole Caufield, fans were overjoyed with the thought of him playing on the Canadiens. Soon after, the organization announced that he would start his pro career with the Laval Rocket. This is a smart move by management for developing Caufield slowly instead of rushing him to the big club.
Caufield Dominates Everywhere He Goes
Caufield has found success at every level of play so far. He not only was successful with the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP), but he dominated it, smashing Auston Matthews’s goal record with 72 goals in a season. As a freshman with the Wisconsin Badgers of the NCAA, he led the Big Ten, scoring 19 goals and amassing 36 points in 36 games. He followed that up this season by scoring 30 goals and 52 points in 31 games, on his way to winning the Big Ten player of the year and the Hobey Baker Award for the top player in the NCAA.
With the help of Caufield’s success, Wisconsin was able to win the Big Ten season title before losing in the championship round. The Badgers also qualified for the NCAA Final Four tournament; however, they lost their only game and were eliminated. Caufield also had mild success at the World Junior Championship, where he had five points in seven games, but his dominance with the USNTDP and NCAA show that for a small player, he has big-time skills.
Caufield Fits Right in With Laval
With Caufield’s recent signing and assignment to the Rocket, so far he has managed to play just two games after quarantining for seven days. Caufield took full advantage of those games; in Game 1, he created a ton of scoring chances before notching his first pro goal on the power play and proceeded to score a second goal later in the game, which ended up being the game-winner. He finished the contest with two goals and three points in his first pro game.
His second game was similar to the first, with Caufield creating a lot of offence and showing he has more than one set of skills. He was forechecking and backchecking well and providing the Rocket with some good transition hockey; he did take a big hit in the second period but got right back up and continued. He scored the game-winner in the third period, netting his third goal in just two games. Not once did Caufield look out of place with Laval — he looked comfortable and at ease. After his team was eliminated in the NCAA tournament, he went 15 days before hitting the ice, but what little rust he had — if any — fell off quick.
Joel Bouchard Is a Prospect Whisperer
Laval head coach Joel Bouchard has been a godsend for the Canadiens prospects since he was hired in 2018. He has helped develop Jake Evans into a solid two-way center and helped struggling players like Victor Mete and Jesperi Kotkaniemi works out issues they had while playing with the Canadiens. Bouchard has turned the Canadiens’ development system into one of the best in the league and created a winning culture in Laval. Bouchard has worked very well with his young players getting the most out of them and helping them bounce back from down years.
Ryan Poehling, who had a challenging year bouncing between the Canadiens and Rocket last season, has now become almost a point-per-game player scoring 19 points in 25 games, compared to only 15 points in 63 games last season in Montreal and Laval. Another player who has benefited from Bouchard’s coaching has been defensemen Josh Brook who struggled last season to find his game in Laval. Brook was an offensive defenseman in junior, but couldn’t find his scoring touch when he turned pro, scoring 13 points in 60 AHL games; so far this season, he has 13 points in 24 games with limited power-play time. Bouchard can help Caufield improve on the little things his game will need to succeed at the NHL level.
Caufield Should Succeed at the NHL Level
With Laval not playing in hockey until the end of the month, the Canadiens decided it was best to call Caufield up to their taxi squad to ensure he gets ice time, even if it’s just practice. The Habs have 23 men on their roster, with John Merrill and Erik Gustafsson already in Edmonton waiting for the Canadiens as they quarantine. With Xavier Ouellet still in the lineup, the team is just shy of having the cap space for Caufield to play.
This call-up will be the perfect opportunity for Caufield to learn the Canadiens’ system and head coach Dominique Ducharme to see where the team’s most anticipated prospect can fit into the lineup. He has the top-six ability and would look great playing with Kotkaniemi, but Ducharme will also need to take his time and ease Caufield into the pressure of playing for the Canadiens. Now that he is on the taxi squad, it would be hard to see him not getting into a game. The organization would have to put someone on waivers to clear space, but Paul Byron is an easy target for that.
The Canadiens need a finisher in their lineup, and Caufield is exactly that a finisher. With only 16 games left in the season and the Calgary Flames nipping at their heels, the Habs can use all the help they can get to ensure they have a date with the postseason.
Trege Wilson lives in Nova Scotia and is a member of the RCN. He is a life long Habs fan and is creator and co-host of the popular Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered.