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All things considered, the Canadiens aren’t in the worst spot.
Especially if the Cole Caufield era does indeed live up to the hype.
Caufield, 20, just finished his junior season with Wisconsin when his top-seeded Badgers were bounced out of the first round of regionals. That’s good news for Habs fans who are ready for him to make an impact at the NHL level.
In a shortened, Covid-impacted season he still scored 30 goals while playing in one of the best conferences in the nation. There’s a lot to be excited about.
First, he’ll spend some time in the AHL with Laval. That doesn’t mean he’ll be there for too long, though, as there’s a good chance he’ll get a crack at the NHL by the playoffs.
“The decision kind of went with everybody thinking what’s best for me in my future right now,” Caufield, the 15th overall pick in the 2019 draft, said in his introductory press conference on Monday. “Obviously I just can’t wait to get my feet wet, it’s a great league and I’m just excited to get going. I know they have a great team right now and I’m just going to be happy to be part of it.”
The Big Ten Player of the Year and a top 10 finalist led the nation in scoring and his conference in points with 52. He’s a dynamic offensive player, just what the Canadiens need.
“He led the Big Ten in scoring as a freshman and that is not easy to do but he has come miles with the growth of his game,” Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato told reporters after the Badgers were eliminated. “I am really really proud of him and I know it’s a hard year when the professional game is sitting there waiting for you. It’s hard to stay focused and it’s hard to be challenged every game when every other team is trying to figure out a way to shut Caufield down every night. He found a way every night to leave it on the ice for us and set a great example for the team.”
He’ll probably get at least a few weeks to get his feet wet at the pro level before getting a shot with the Habs, which could come around the playoffs, in the footsteps of other former NHL mega prospects out of college like Charlie McAvoy and Cale Makar.
That’s where the Habs playoff position impacts him. Montreal has a two point lead on Calgary but a comfortable five games in hand.
So Caufield should have some time to develop other areas of his game before the Habs call upon him to be an impact, like he’ll be expected to be from moment one.
“My ability in, and how I learned this year to play in all three zones a little bit better is something that I took a lot of pride in,” Caufield said. “I think the compete factor has always been there but I’m just a lot more hungry right now and I just want to prove to myself how good of a player I am and what I’ve become this past year. I think I took a big step in my development and I’m just excited to get there and show it.”
The Habs are also tight against the cap after trading for Eric Staal from the Sabres late last week. Since he is signing at 20 years old, Caufield also will burn one of his contract years, so they won’t want to waste it either.
Caufield isn’t the only college player set to make an NHL debut sometime soon. Boston University defenseman David Farrance signed with Nashville earlier this week, and former Penn State forward Aarne Talvitie recently signed with the Devils. There could be more in the coming days, with Boston College out and Minnesota prospect Matt Boldy and Florida’s Spencer Knight potentially available.
Caufield could be the star of them all, though, at least for this season.
For now, though, he has some other business to finish up.
“For the (quarantine), I think I’m going to do as much homework as I can to finish the school year out, so that’s out of the way.”
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The Cole Caufield era is ready to begin in Montreal, soon originally appeared on NBCSports.com