Should the Canucks draft Cole Caufield at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft?

Pass it to Bulis

The Canucks need goals.

Elias Pettersson burst out of the gate in his rookie season with 10 goals in 10 games, showing the potential to be an elite goalscorer. Brock Boeser, if he can stay healthy for a full season, should be a perennial 30-40 goal threat. Bo Horvat has stepped up his game and could potentially score 30 in the future. Unfortunately, after those three, the Canucks don’t have much.

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The Canucks were one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL last season; just five teams scored fewer goals. Apart from Pettersson, Boeser, and Horvat, the Canucks had just one forward reach 30 points: Antoine Roussel. Behind him was Loui Eriksson. In terms of young players, perhaps Nikolay Goldobin, Jake Virtanen, and Adam Gaudette have some more goals to give.

While the Canucks can expect further growth from some of the young players on their roster, there’s not much help coming from the Canucks’ prospect pool. Is Tyler Madden going to be a big-time goalscorer? Lukas Jasek? Will Lockwood? Kole Lind?

Clearly, the Canucks need some more scoring punch in their pool and might be able to find it with their first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Who better to take 10th-overall then arguably the best goalscorer in the draft?

There’s just one issue: the guy that appears to be the best goalscorer in the draft is 5’7” and 163 lbs.

Cole Caufield shattered records with the US National Team Development Program this past season, tallying a ridiculous 72 goals in 64 games and adding 29 goals in 28 games in the USHL. He has a total of 126 goals in 123 games with the USDP, besting the likes of Auston Matthews and Phil Kessel.

At the World Under-18 Championships, Caufield was ridiculous, averaging two goals per game for Team USA. He led the tournament with 14 goals in 7 games; the next best player had 9 goals, and that was his linemate, projected first-overall pick Jack Hughes. No one else in the tournament had more than six goals.

The only other player to ever score 14 goals at a World Under-18 Championship was Alex Ovechkin, and Ovechkin played one more game than Caufield.

That’s quite the collection of names already mentioned in relation to Caufield: Matthews, Kessel, Ovechkin. Matthews already has a 40-goal season under his belt at 21. Kessel has six 30-goal seasons under his belt. Ovechkin is the greatest goal-scorer in NHL history.

But the name that most frequently gets mention in relation to Caufield is Alex DeBrincat.

The comparisons between the two are obvious and immediate. They’re both American. They’re both fantastic goalscorers with lethal shots. They both broke records in their junior careers — DeBrincat’s 167 goals is the most ever by an American-born player in the OHL and is just the second player in OHL history to record three-straight 50-goal seasons. They both even had their quality questioned because they played on a line with a prospective first-overall pick: Connor McDavid for Caufield and Jack Hughes for DeBrincat.

Oh, and they’re also both 5’7”.

DeBrincat fell to the second round in 2016 despite 51 goals and 101 points in 60 OHL games in his draft year. A few years later, he’s coming off a 41-goal season for the Chicago Blackhawks. This year, nobody wants to let someone capable of scoring 40 goals slip to the second round because of his size.

Can Caufield reach those same heights? It’s hard to bet against him: he just keeps putting the puck in the net. Caufield has that Brett Hull-ian knack of getting himself into open scoring positions, ready to receive a pass and deposit it into the back of the net in short order.

Caufield’s scouting report from Next Gen Hockey highlights his ability to find open space, calling it being an “active recipient” of passes.

Cole Caufield has turned this into an art form, and while he typically had elite talents Jack Hughes and Alex Turcotte as his centres, Caufield was constantly receiving from everyone on the ice, forwards and defencemen alike, simply because he was always open.

Once he gets the puck in those open areas, Caufield puts it in the net in a variety of ways.

He has a lethal wrist shot with an exceptionally quick release, his one-timer is accurate and powerful, and he’s pretty adept with his backhand too. You can also find him all around the net to deposit rebounds and he’s deadly on the power play, where he sets up primarily down low at the bottom of the left faceoff circle. And every once in a while, he’ll just undress a goaltender with his quick hands.

The rest of Caufield’s game has been overshadowed by his elite snipery, but he’s got a well-rounded set of skills. While he lacks a little top speed, he’s a smooth skater, capable of quick changes of direction to evade defenders. He’s an exceptional stickhandler, with several scouts talking up his toe-drag, and many scouting reports suggest he’s an underrated playmaker.

His most important asset, however, is his hockey sense, which makes him almost as effective defensively as he is offensively. As Elite Prospects puts it, “he’s uncomfortable having the puck in his own end for long and he’ll make the extra effort to pressure around the blue line and take away cross-ice options.”

It’s easy to see how Caufield would make sense for the Canucks. While he’s heading to the University of Wisconsin next season (and it makes sense for him to spend a year in the NCAA), it’s easy to imagine him making the NHL at 19 and stepping into a top-six role, whether alongside Bo Horvat or Elias Pettersson.

There are just a couple questions remaining.

Will Caufield still be available at 10th overall for the Canucks? Draft rankings have Caufield all over the place, generally from 10-15, but a couple recent rankings from Corey Pronman of The Athletic and Chris Peters of ESPN have him at fifth overall and his unreal U-18 tournament might have bumped him up a few team draft lists.

Another question: will his shortcomings prevent him from reaching his ceiling? As much as the NHL is becoming more amenable to smaller players, elite talent like DeBrincat is still the exception. There is an outside chance that Caufield struggles to score in the NHL like he has with the USDP.

Finally, there’s the question of whether there will still be a better player on the board than Caufield. What if a higher-rated forward like Vasili Podkolzin, Alex Turcotte, Dylan Cozens or Kirby Dach falls to 10th? Could Matthew Boldy, Trevor Zegras, or Peyton Krebs have a higher ceiling than Caufield? Are there defencemen that would make sense to pick ahead of any of these forwards?

None of those players can score goals like Caufield, however. That alone might make Caufield the right choice for the Canucks at 10th overall.

 


 

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