Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has stayed true to his word and has signed top prospect Cole Caufield as quickly as could be considered possible. After the top-seed University of Wisconsin was unceremoniously upset in the East Regional of the NCAA Tournament by Bemidji State University on Friday, Caufield’s collegiate career came to an end. Just over 24 hours later, he is officially under contract. The Canadiens have announced that the 2019 15th overall pick has signed a three-year entry-level contract, which begins this year. Signing as a 20-year-old, the first year of Caufield’s ELC will be burned this season.
While Caufield is expected to report to the AHL’s Laval Rocket once his mandatory quarantine is complete, his entry-level deal is priced affordably to help Montreal out as soon as possible. Rather than a maximum $925K AAV on his ELC, Caufield will make just $700K in salary this first year and $832.5K in each of the next two years. Combined with signing bonus payments of $92.5K each year and additional performance bonuses, Caufield’s cap hit comes out to $880.8K. While only marginally less than the maximum ELC hit, it could still indicate that the Habs have plans to sneak him under the cap and onto the NHL roster this season.
Even if Caufield doesn’t play in Montreal down the stretch or is only used sparingly, he will certainly be a key player for them over the next two seasons and long after. One of the best prospect goal-scorers in recent memory, Caufield was a record-breaking sniper for the U.S. National Team Development Program. His immense offensive ability helped keep Caufield’s draft stock afloat despite concerns about his meager, 5’7″, 165-lb. frame. Caufield has put those durability worries to rest over the past two seasons in the NCAA too, showing that he is more than capable of holding his own against older and bigger opponents. After a point-per-game freshman campaign, Caufield opted to return to Wisconsin this season and in doing so became the most dominant player in college hockey. The Big Ten Player of the Year and a Hobey Baker Award finalist, Caufield recorded 30 goals and 52 points in 31 games for the Badgers, leading the NCAA in both categories on both a total and per-game level. Even if only a fraction of that scoring ability translates to the NHL, Caufield will still be a dangerous weapon.