Quite easily the most difficult prospect I evaluated this season, USNTDP winger Cole Caufield is a goal scoring machine. He obliterated the U.S. Program’s goal scoring record, potting 72 genos in 64 games. Those are video game numbers. It was made possible by his elite shot, which is by far the best in the entire 2019 NHL draft. The season he had was one for the ages, and his goal record is going to last for a very long time.
But throughout the course of the season he wasn’t always sitting right with me. I’ve made the exception to dub Caufield a top prospect despite have some legitimate concerns, simply because his shot is so damn lethal. What I found was he is very reliant on his teammates to get him the puck and is not a high-end play driver. Breaking into the top-10 is a tough ask for a non play driving winger. Playing alongside three world-class playmakers in Trevor Zegras, Matthew Boldy, and Jack Hughes made his life pretty easy.
Caufield’s goal scoring potential at the next level is huge, but a lot of his success with come from the situation he is drafted into. Oh, and before you say it, he is 5’7” and I really don’t care. His size is not much of a concern for me.
|Team||U.S. U18 (USNTDP)|
|Birthday||January 2, 2001|
Skating: 55 – Puck Skills: 55 – Hockey IQ/Sense: 55 – Physicality: 35
It really is no secret Caufield is a pure goal scorer. Many of his goals make you laugh because he makes it look so easy. He is nearly flawless as a shooter, having the ability to score from range, change the angle of his shot, score from in-tight, or blast one-timers as the triggerman on the powerplay.
The mechanics of his shot make it so special. He has pinpoint accuracy that almost doesn’t seem real. Some of the goals he scores almost feel by accident, but eventually you catch on to the fact that he doesn’t stop doing it. These are no accident. And somewhat surprising is the velocity he gets off his shots. He doesn’t have the weight to really put behind his shots, but his timing and form is so perfect he doesn’t have to sacrifice anything.
Caufield can clearly score highlight reel goals off his pure shot, but he does all the little things right as well. He can deke out goaltenders with his quick hands or raise the puck from in-tight. Simple mistakes like not raising the puck cost players goals all the time, but with Caufield he takes advantage of any opportunity he gets.
Caufield has been doing his thing for the last two years with the USNTDP. His 72 goals this past season destroyed Auston Matthews previously record of 55. But even looking at the season prior he nearly broke Matthews’ record by scoring 54 goals. Some of the other names he outscored include Phil Kessel, Matthew Tkachuk, Jack Eichel, and Dylan Larkin.
Stats via eliteprospects.com
Caufield also tied Alex Ovechkin’s record for most goals at the U18s with 14, doing so in 7 games.
All of his accolades and records are incredibly impressive, but there is still some reason as to why I have not completely bought in.
Its how the puck ends up on his stick that leaves doubt in my mind. Jack Hughes was his primary center this season and I’d say he’s pretty good. But the entire USNTDP roster as a whole is stacked with play drivers, giving Caufield more room to ride shot-gun. The goal scoring ability is phenomenal, but I have a very difficult time buying into a player who over relies on his teammates. There were many outings I can recall where he did absolutely nothing. When the goals aren’t coming there isn’t too much to like about his game. I wasn’t overly impressed with his play by midseason.
My stance on pure goal scorers is one I’ve been uncertain on for many years. I think that is very important to point out as an evaluator. They can be easy to neutralize for long stretches. Their streaky ways never sit right with me, but at the end of the day goals are goals. It comes down to how high-end the goal scoring ability is. Patrik Laine can take a month off and still hit 40 goals, but a player like Tomas Tatar will do the same and barely crack 25. There is some balance to be had there and I’ve struggled to find it. That is why I stated Caufield was so difficult for me to assess this season. The eye test of his shot and statistics say he is elite, but there is also reason to believe his signature performances like scoring 6 goals against a very bad Green Bay team was a fluke.
It seems as though many have the expectation that he’ll be the next Alex DeBrincat, and that alone will set you up for disappointment. Being undersized in today’s game doesn’t really matter anymore, and it won’t hold back Caufield. What will though is his over reliance on teammates and limited impact away from goal scoring. I still believe he’ll score in spades at the NHL level, but thinking he’ll easily score close to 40 consistently is ridiculous.
Does he have the potential to be a 40 goal man? absolutely, but a large part of his success will be due to the situation he is drafted into. I’d have a hard time taking him over a top-end play driving center. He won’t change the fortunes of a franchise all by himself, which is why he lands at 14 on my draft board, which is based on best player available.
Caufield will be taking the college route, playing his collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin. UW has made a huge strides as a program and had arguably the best recruiting class in the country this year. Alex Turcotte, Dylan Holloway, and Ryder Donovan join Caufield at Wisconsin, who also looks to have K’Andre Miller returning for his sophomore season. Head coach Tony Granato will have a lot to work with, in hopes of bringing home a national championship.
Caufield should be poised to score many goals once again. His scoring marks against college opponents last season were very high, as the older competition should not phase him. He’ll still have quality teammates getting him the puck. My biggest hope is he adds on some muscle before going pro, that will go a long way in prepping him for the best league in the world.