Cole Caufield: The American Sniper
Cole Caufield is a goal-scoring machine, and arguably the most lethal sniper eligible for selection in the 2019 NHL Draft.
As a star member of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program in 2017-18, Caufield netted a jaw-dropping 54 goals in 59 games played — a total which stood high above that of 2019 top prospect Jack Hughes’. In fact, Caufield’s 54-goal total was the highest mark achieved by a NTDP player since Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews set the current record of 55 in 2014-15.
The major difference between Caufield and Matthews, however?
When Matthews blasted home 55 goals as a member of the NTDP, the native of San Ramon, California and eventual first overall selection in the 2016 NHL Draft already stood well above 6-feet and weighed in close to 200-pounds.
This distinct physical advantage allowed Matthews to dominate his competition in North America at a young age as well as play a year of professional hockey in Switzerland before ascending to the NHL-level. Described as boasting the perfect combination of size, speed, and skill, the Leafs’ selection of Matthews first overall truly came as little surprise.
However, in the case of Caufield, the native of Mosinee, Winsconsin’s value ahead of the 2019 NHL Draft is anything but certain. In fact, the young sniper’s stock has been impeded dramatically by a factor completely out of his control: size.
Standing 5-foot-6 and tipping the scales at 160-pounds, Caufield is a diminutive player who is regularly the smallest player on the ice. As a result, Caufield has long been forced to analyze, adapt, and overcome the unique challenges placed upon him by his opponents of considerably greater size and strength.
Fortunately, Caufield has been able to accomplish exactly such with startling regularity, as the youngster has come to dominate his opposition on a nightly basis owing to his soft hands, excellent shot, innate hockey sense, and tireless determination to overcome any obstacle in his path to the NHL.
Caufield’s Road to the Show
Although Caufield’s road to the show will undoubtedly be a long and winding one, it is a path which will surely prove prosperous.
Heading into the 2018-19 season, a number of early 2019 NHL Draft Rankings have already failed to afford Caufield the respect which his on-ice exploits have come to deserve. Projected to be selected late in the first round, Caufield’s inaccurate outlook is as inaccurate as it is prejudiced.
Yes, he is of a smaller stature, but so too was former Erie Otters star and current Chicago Blackhawks sniper Alex DeBrincat. Also projected to be selected late in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft, DeBrincat wound up falling to 39th overall despite recording 51 goals and 101 points as a rookie in the campaign preceding his selection.
The common trait which both Caufield and DeBrincat share? A lack of size — DeBrincat stands just 5-foot-7 and 170-pounds, yet still scored 28 goals for the Blackhawks in his rookie season.
So, if there is one reality which NHL franchises and their respective General Managers must learn from cases such as DeBrincat — as well as Brayden Point and Johnny Gaudreau — it is that highly skilled players of smaller stature are becoming increasingly effective in the NHL due to their ability to adapt to more sizeable competition.
And, such must exactly be the case when Caufield heads to Vancouver for the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver, British Columbia next June. If passed over and not selected until late in the first-round or early into the second, the NHL franchise which selects Caufield will have stolen a premier goal-scorer and one capable supplementing his team’s offence at the NHL-level.
In hindsight, should the likes of DeBrincat, Point, and Gaudreau have been selected in the first-round of their respective NHL Draft’s?
In 2019, let’s hope that NHL franchises finally cast aside their misconceptions surrounding size. Caufield is a legitimate first-round talent and elite sniper, and deserves to be recognized as such.