The Montreal Canadiens have been one of the biggest surprises thus far in the 2020-21 season and their success has often been fueled by the play of their rookies and other young impact players. The team’s talent pipeline isn’t drying up any time soon either and the club expects to add a pair of top prospects to organization before the end of the current campaign. Speaking with the media today, GM Marc Bergevin all but confirmed that 2019 first-round pick Cole Caufield will turn pro at the end of his sophomore season at the University of Wisconsin. The Athletic’s Arpon Basu adds that Bergevin also noted that defenseman Jordan Harris is also expected to sign with the club when he wraps up his junior season at Northeastern University.
Caufield, 20, is easily Montreal’s best unsigned prospect and quite possibly the top non-NHL player in the organization. A record-breaking goal-scorer for the U.S. National Team Development Program, Caufield was the 15th overall pick two years ago and even that felt too low to many scouts and analysts. He has since solidified his status as a dangerous offensive weapon, posting a point-per-game season as a freshman on a disappointing Wisconsin squad last season, winning Big Ten Rookie of the Year. He spurned the pros to return for a second year, and so far that has resulted in a whopping 17 goals and 33 points in 22 games and a top NCAA ranking for the Badgers. Caufield also took home a gold medal at the World Juniors for Team USA, collecting five points along the way. Caufield has not let his small stature slow him down against the older and larger competition at the college level nor against his elite peers at the WJC. The Canadiens expect more of the same once he gets to the NHL, as Bergiven glowed about his ability and his growth this season. Basu notes that while Montreal fans will want Caufield on the NHL roster immediately, Bergevin stated that cap considerations, quarantine timelines, and roster structure will all play a part in determining where the highly-touted prospect begins his pro career.
Harris, 20, may not compete with Caufield on name value and draft stock alone, but can hold his own as a productive collegiate player and promising NHL prospect. A third-round pick in 2018 out of the New England prep school ranks, Harris is skilled, puck-moving defenseman. He made a clean jump from high school to college, recording 13 points in 39 games as a freshman for the Hockey East Champion Huskies, but has improved considerably in each of his last two seasons – 21 points in 33 games last year and 16 points and a career-high five goals through just 15 games this year. He is Northeastern’s No. 2 scorer, a locker room leader, is a big reason why the program finds itself in contention for an NCAA Tournament spot. While he may not have the immediate NHL upside of Caufield or an Alexander Romanov, Harris is another player for Habs fans to get excited about and he may even see some NHL action himself later this year if the situation is right.
Of course, the question of whether Caufield or Harris can make an impact with Montreal this season is very dependent on their NCAA schedule. The NCAA Tournament is not scheduled to begin until March 26 and for Frozen Four teams the season may not end until April 10. While the discrepancy between games played and frequent absences of players this season should make for unpredictable conference and national tournaments, both Caufield and Harris have a chance to make a deep run. Caufield’s Wisconsin Badgers are currently ranked No. 5 in the country and seem like a lock for the NCAA Tournament and a title contender. Harris’ Northeastern Huskies are currently right on the edge of qualification at No. 16, but have another month of regular season games and the Hockey East Tournament to clinch a spot. If Harris is not playing in the national tournament, he should have plenty of time to get to Canada and suit up for the AHL’s Laval Rocket or even the Canadiens over the last six weeks or so of the season. However, if either players’ season stretches deeper into April, leaving less than a month of NHL regular season games available following quarantine, there is less of a chance that they make their Montreal debut, especially Harris but potentially for Caufield as well. Fortunately, the Canadiens will get to see both players in action far beyond just the end of this season.