When Cole Caufield announced that he was returning to Wisconsin for his sophomore year, many Canadiens fans were disappointed in that decision. While we’ll have to wait another year before we get a chance to see the former 15th overall pick don the historic bleu-blanc-rouge jersey, he is heading back for serious reasons and it might be worth the wait.
When Caufield was sliding in the 2019 draft, a lot of scouts and analysts were worried he was dropping because of size. He had scored the most goals out of anyone in the class and broke multiple scoring records during his draft year. Then he got drafted Montreal and was ready to start on a journey that would prove the first 14 teams that they had made a mistake passing on his elite goal-scoring abilities.
Since he was drafted almost a year ago he has gone on and surpassed expectations at the University of Wisconsin. He scored 19 goals, added 17 assists for 36 points in 36 games while playing on a subpar Badgers squad that finished last in their conference. He also won freshman of the year in the Big Ten and made the US junior team in 2019. He had a very strong year.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Caufield decided to return to Wisconsin for his sophomore year. While he did admit he wasn’t totally ready to play pro hockey, the reason for returning has more to do with refining his skills and becoming a more complete player. In a recent article for the Journal de Montreal y Jonathan Bernier, Cole made it clear he was going to set the bar higher and train in order to achieve his new goals.
What are those goals? For one he wants to win the Hobey-Baker trophy which is awarded to the NCAA’s most valuable player. This the equivalent to the Hart trophy in the NHL and stars like Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, and Cale Makar have won those in the last couple of years. Second, he wants to score 1 goal and record 2 points a game which is no easy accomplishment for a player let alone a sophomore. Lastly which might be the most important of them all is he wants to be a more complete player. This would help him become more valuable both on offense and when defending. Every team wants its players to be responsible as long as it does not hinder what they are good at.
The first two may be somewhat ambitious but it’s better to aim high and swing hard because he has the talent to achieve those goals if he is dedicated day in and day out. The tough part will be production because while the team still has quality players like potential 2020 1st round pick Dylan Holloway, defensemen Ty Emberson and Roma Ahcan who were some of the few bright spots of this team. They, however, lost two of the best players in Alex Turcotte and K’Andre Miller who both signed their entry-level contracts with the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers respectively.
With those key departures and new arrivals, Cole Caufield will have to step up his game as he will be depended up to carry a bigger load and likely be the key leader on the ice. He will have all the opportunities to do be the catalyst by playing another year in the NCAA. This is the right time to make mistakes and learn as there fewer games compared to other leagues like the CHL and AHL and there is more time to focus on practice, training in the gym, and reviewing plays via video review. If there’s one thing that Cole needs to learn is how to manage all this as it will be his first season in a long time without a high-end player helping him carry the weight and pressure of the team. In previous seasons he had guys like Jack Hughes, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras, K’Andre Miller, and much more help out. He’s THE guy this year.
To sum this all up this will be a defining year for everyone but especially for Cole Caufield. While he’s not alone in this he is on the front lines and will have added pressure in his 2nd season. He’s coming off a great individual freshman year but the team needs to show signs of progression and Cole will have to play a major part in this team’s success if there is any. If there is one thing that is for certain it’s that Caufield will put in time off the ice to be able to give it his all on the ice and his character will show up this year for better or for worse. I’d bet on the first coming true.