One of the most hyped players coming out of the 2019 NHL Draft, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Montreal Canadiens’ Cole Caufield would be in the NHL as soon as possible. A record-breaking goal-scorer for the U.S. National Team Development Program, Caufield had committed to the University of Wisconsin, but most believed that the 15th overall pick would be one-and-done after his freshman campaign. In fact, it was not outside the realm of possibility that Caufield could have made his NHL debut later this season had the Canadiens made the playoffs.
However, things have not gone according to plan for any of the parties involved. Montreal is not a playoff team, the Wisconsin Badgers are not the national contender that many expected them to be, and Caufield is not ready for the NHL, reports Mathias Brunet of La Presse. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin tells Brunet that he will recommend that Caufield remain at Wisconsin for another year:
Cole Caufield is having a good year. But, in our eyes, he is not ready. We will make a decision at the end of the year. If he really wants to leave college, we won’t force him, but we’ll recommend that he stay [at Wisconsin]. That doesn’t mean it’s a disappointment. We aim for the best in long-term development.
Bergevin would go on to say that playing for the AHL’s Laval Rocket next season would also be a possibility for Caufield next season, but he feels that even that would be a challenge. While Caufield’s offensive ability is apparent, Bergevin notes that the young sniper’s play without the puck has a long way to go, and that is a crucial part of competing at the pro level. He adds that over-inflated media expectations for the likes of Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Ryan Poehling have hurt those players’ development in the eyes of the team and they hope to prevent the same fate for Caufield. While the slow play could be disappointing to Montreal fans, especially as they look to the future during another disappointing season, is it always better not to rush a young player, especially if the team honestly feels that he is not ready to make the jump.
This news will be received much differently in Madison than it is in Montreal. Assuming Caufield stays at Wisconsin, Badgers fans can hold out hope that an NCAA title run may still be possible. This season has been disappointing from a team perspective, but Caufield has been stellar in his freshman season, leading the team with 19 goals and 35 points in 33 games. Fellow freshman standout Alex Turcotte, selected fifth overall by the Los Angeles Kings last year, is not confirmed to be returning next season, nor is sophomore defenseman and 2018 first-rounder K’Andre Miller (NYR). However, if the trio stays put, the likes of Dylan Holloway (2020), Owen Lindmark (FLA), Ty Emberson (ARI), and Ryder Donovan (VGK) take a step forward, and incoming recruit Cameron Rowe (2020) helps to repair the poor results in net, then the Badgers could do a better job of meeting expectations in the 2020-21 season.