From the moment the Badgers season ended in an overtime loss to Ohio State, all eyes were on three of Wisconsin’s top players: K’Andre Miller, Alex Turcotte and Cole Caufield. The first two turned pro with the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings respectively while the third, Caufield, decided it was better to stay in the NCAA for at least another season.
When Marc Bergevin was asked about Caufield’s future in an interview with Mathias Brunet of La Presse, he said, “Cole is having a great year in the NCAA, but in our eyes, he is not ready. We will make a decision at the end of the year. If he wants to leave college, it is up to him, but we will recommend that he stays at Wisconsin. We’re looking at his long term development.”
With that, Bergevin added that the weak parts of Caufield’s game is defending in his zone and that he can use some millage/more experience. These are things he can continue to work on in the NCAA as the AHL and NHL are much harder to perform in if you’re not ready. He will have all the time to do so in Wisconsin.
When Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato was asked what he thought about Caufield’s season and his return in 2020-2021, he replied that Caufield had a fantastic progression in his first season in the NCAA, but he still has areas of his game to improve. He mentioned the same things Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said: physical maturity and playing time.
He also brought up the path that was taken by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar saying that Makar could have turned pro earlier but decided to stay another year where he dominated the NCAA, played in the NCAA final, won the Hobey Baker award and turned pro at the end of his 2nd season and made an impact in the playoffs for Colorado.
Imagine if he had made the jump earlier. Would he have made this big of an impact in his rookie season? What we do know is that the extra year with the University of Massachusetts helped Makar a lot.
What Does This All Mean?
For one, it means we won’t see Caufield in a Canadiens uniform before the end of the 2020-2021 NCAA season. He will, however, be invited to the annual development camp which takes place right after the NHL Entry Draft and allows the Canadiens top prospects to bond and practice together.
It also means he will participate in the 2021 World Junior Championship for the United States. Now, it’s not a guarantee that he’ll make the team, but if he continues to play the way he does, then I’d expect him to be on their top-six come the exhibition round.
It also means he can continue to focus on his training as there are fewer games in the NCAA vs. OHL and AHL. He will have time to work on his strength in the gym as well as key problematic areas such as his defensive awareness. I believe that this is the time to make mistakes and correct them. Coaches tolerate these things in junior leagues. Not so much in the pros.
In the end, Caufield made a good decision. It keeps in a good development league where he can iron out some areas that are important and at the same time, it keeps him away from the pros where he might not perform and we’d have another situation like the one regarding Jesperi Kotkaniemi. If there’s anything to take away from this news, it’s that the Habs learned their lesson with Kotkaniemi and value the development of leagues outside the AHL. Caufield will come when ready and in the end, it’s all about being prepared for when he will be required to share the load when he joins the Montreal Canadiens.