Montreal Canadiens, Cole Caufield and the Importance of Development in the Long-Term

On Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens announced they have agreed to terms with forward Cole Caufield on a three-year, entry-level contract. The contract, valued at $700, 000 at the NHL level in year one and $832, 500 in two subsequent seasons, will run through the 2022-23 season. Selected 15th overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Caufield is widely considered as one of the top prospects in the Canadiens organization.

The young forward was an elite-level scoring talent in his most recent season with the NCAA’s Wisconsin Badgers. In 31 games played with the Badgers, Cole Caufield went on to tally 30 goals along with 22 assists for 52 total points. Likewise, Caufield is one of the leading candidates for the Hobey Baker Award.

Cole Caufield report to the AHL’s Laval Rocket following the completion of his seven-day government mandated quarantine, as per the team’s announcement made Saturday afternoon.

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Long-Term Development Being First on the List of Priorities

Furthermore, expectations surrounding this Montreal Canadiens season are at an all-time high, primarily due to an impressive stint in the Toronto bubble during last year’s playoffs and GM Marc Bergevin making important acquisitions throughout the offseason. Prior to the start of the 2020-21 season, the Montreal Canadiens brought in goaltender Jake Allen, defenseman Joel Edmundson and forwards Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli, Corey Perry and Michael Frolik.

While this season has not gone as planned with a slumping Canadiens team culminating in the firing of head coach Claude Julien, the team still holds the final playoff spot in the North Division and has seen improvements under interim bench boss Dominique Ducharme and a revived power play run by assistant coach Alex Burrows.

Considering the expectations for this season and the Canadiens spending close to the entirety of their available cap space, many expect Cole Caufield to be a part of the team’s deadline acquisitions, and for good reason. What Cole Caufield offers the Montreal Canadiens is something that no other player on their roster possesses. In this case, an elite-level scoring touch. While the powerplay unit has improved following changes made behind the bench, having Cole Caufield utilize his shot on the man advantage could be a recipe for success.

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While this is certainly an enticing opportunity for the organization and fans alike looking to see one of their top prospects finally make the team, it is something that should only be done if the 20-year-old winger is prepared for such opportunities. Regardless of the skill-level and the position they were drafted, development for such an important prospect in an organization should be of the utmost priority. As it stands, the Montreal Canadiens seem to have that in mind.

While some may be upset they will not be able to see Cole Caufield with the team just yet, sending the forward to the Laval Rocket to play under head coach Joel Bouchard is the best possible move to make. In fact, in his past three pressers, Marc Bergevin mentioned himself that the transition between the NCAA and NHL is a big one. By sending Caufield to the AHL, the organization is granting him time to hone his abilities, play top-line minutes and transition his game as much as possible before an inevitable call-up.

In Laval, head coach Joel Bouchard has shown to work wonders with several younger players since joining the franchise in 2018. The most recent graduate from the Laval Rocket, centreman Jake Evans took significant strides under Bouchard. This season, Bouchard has helped Jesse Ylonen transition from Liiga with good results as of late. Furthermore, the player that has seen significant improvements is centreman Ryan Poehling, who struggled to find his game last season, but has now been displaying a refined hockey sense, stronger skating and an improved two-way game. It would be shame to not have Cole Caufield go through the same process considering Bouchard’s ability to develop players and it is reassuring to see the organization recognizing this.

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When Will Cole Caufield Join the Montreal Canadiens’ NHL Roster?

As we already know, Cole Caufield will report straight to the AHL to play for the Laval Rocket, the question remaining is when the Canadiens will have him on their NHL roster. Ultimately, this may likely come down to how well Cole Caufield performs for the Laval Rocket, a team where he will be given every chance to succeed. If Caufield impresses, he may very well be called up to complete the remainder of the year at the NHL level, which would prove to be a nice deadline acquisition alongside Eric Staal, who was acquired from the Sabres on Friday.

Regardless of how this season plays out, it would not be surprising to see Cole Caufield as a mainstay for the 2021-22 regular season.

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